Austin McNew is like any other teen. He loves sports, the junior at Northeastern High School in Fountain City, Indiana a standout linebacker for his team. And when he isn't playing, he likes nothing more than watching his favorite team, the Steelers play.
McNew also enjoys spending time with his friends, doing the things teens do, like sledding when winter hits. It's something he never thought would be life-changing, but it was when he recently suffered a spinal cord injury from a sledding accident, leaving him paralyzed and still hospitalized after several weeks.
He has received text messages, Twitter comments, phone calls and all sorts of support from family, friends, classmates and just about everybody who has ever met him and many that haven't.
But this week, he got a phone call that would take the get well wishes to a completely new level. Steelers' receiver Antonio Brown, McNew's favorite player, learned about his situation through some of McNew's friends reaching out to him on Twitter. When Brown heard the story, he knew he had to do something. So he connected with McNew's mother, Teresa McNew, and the rest is social media history.
"I thought it would be special because he is a football player who got caught in a freak accident," said Brown. "His friends said he is a big fan. I thought if I can just give him a call and maybe offer him some encouragement in that moment in time with what he was going through, hopefully it would make him feel better and hopefully help in his recovery."
When Brown first called, he spoke to McNew's mom and then with a quiet, overwhelmed Austin for a few minutes. The thought was that might be it. It wasn't.
"Austin doesn't have use of his hands and arms right now so I put it on speaker phone," said Teresa McNew. "Austin talked to him for just a few seconds and his face was just so special. He didn't know what to say. He was shocked.
"I talked to Antonio for a few more minutes. I went out into the hall because he had friends in the room and they were talking and so excited. When I stepped out Austin kept saying I can't believe it. That was Antonio Brown. I should have said more. He was speechless at first.
"That is when Antonio said Facetime me so he can see my face. I went back in the room and put them on Facetime and that was just amazing for Austin to see that."
Austin talked to Brown about a little of everything, from checking on how Brown was doing after suffering a concussion against the Bengals, to keeping a positive attitude and taking his recovery one step at a time. And it was as special for Brown as it was for McNew.
"Sometimes that is all it takes, one phone call, reaching out," said Brown. "You have people you look up to and respect. Any time those people can provide you encouragement or share their presence with you, it can lift them up or make them feel good. You want to be a positive role model. To be able to affect someone and help them no matter what situation they are in is what you want to be able to do.
"That is what life is all about. That is a real life situation. In life it's all about what's within. It about how you make people feel within their heart. A perfect example of it is a kid who is paralyzed and to be able to talk with him and see that we are connecting, there is energy, he is being positive about the situation and giving him encouragement is what life is all about. Reaching out, lifting people up and spreading good energy helps.
"You have to give back. There are so many people out there that show me love, any time I can give it back I want to do it. I know the type of support I get from the fans and I want to give that back."
Teresa McNew said Austin is still on cloud nine about the phone call, inspiring him to fight through the injury and come back even stronger. And as a mom, she too is thankful for what Brown did, having a hard time even putting it all into words.
"It's indescribable how I feel after this," said Teresa McNew. "Austin is inspiring people and we don't know why. He is determined to fight through this injury. He hasn't turned depressed or angry. He just says I am going to fight through this.
"That call from Antonio inspired him even more. It made him even more determined. It was priceless."