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Originally published Monday, December 18, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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In his own words | Utley's injury laid foundation of new life

Mike Utley played guard for the Detroit Lions for three seasons until he was paralyzed during a game in 1991. He attended Kennedy High School...

Mike Utley played guard for the Detroit Lions for three seasons until he was paralyzed during a game in 1991. He attended Kennedy High School in Burien and starred at Washington State. He runs the Mike Utley Foundation, searching for a cure for paralysis.

"My career was very short-lived. I crushed my right leg. I broke my ribs. I hurt my right shoulder, my right hip. Then I broke my neck. They said I wouldn't be able to play again.

It comes down to, that's your job. That's your profession. That's your choice. Ask anybody that played in the NFL. For that short time of their existence, they are the best in the world. What a novelty to be associated with that kind of talent.

My dad worked as an engineer at Boeing for 30, 35 years. My mom worked as a registered nurse, worked evenings, the second and third shift. I watched my parents sacrifice. My dad had to go through layoffs. He became a certified accountant. That's what sacrifice is.

I've found a way to win. By getting up every day and addressing this injury as it is ... an injury.

The difference between Mike Utley then and now is two things. One, I'm a hell of a lot lighter than I used to be; and 2, I'm able to articulate what I did before. Character is developed and integrity is learned when the coach is not there. I've done it before. I'm doing it now. Nobody's watching. It's been 15 years, and I still do it. I'm seeing my martial-arts instructor. I was up in my garage doing therapy this morning.

I started getting information out there so people can learn to win. Dani, my wife now, says everybody needs to be told at least once. Every time you get up in the morning, you choose to get up. I choose to get up at 4 a.m. every single day. I chose to step over that white line and onto the field of battle. I choose now to stand up and make something today for Mike Utley. That's what the foundation is based on. Information.

It has been 15 years since I've been hurt. I was in rehab, officially, for 4 ½ months. If you get hurt, you go and learn to survive. Once you survive, then Mike Utley, he'll teach you how to win.

Ninety-five percent of the population does therapy to feel better. Athletes want to go and be better. That's two different perspectives. Ninety-nine percent of therapists want you to feel better. I had to find a therapist who wanted to make me better.

I have done a national [TV] show for every single year for 15 years. Why are people still asking me? Because I'm pushing every single day. I'm not accepting this injury. I deal with this injury. I move forward. Am I in denial? No. Every day I still have to use this wheelchair. I deal with it.

Am I proud of this foundation? Absolutely. But am I where I want to be yet? Absolutely not. We still need more corporate sponsorships. I want to double participants on my bike tour. We're doing good things. I'm proud of it. But I want more. Much more. Because I'm still in this chair. And I still have a choice."

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