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Shazier: 'It’s great being an inspiration'

Ryan Shazier personifies what the award he received on Tuesday is all about.

Shazier was presented with the 2018 Ed Block Courage Award at the 26th Annual Art Rooney Courage House Luncheon at Heinz Field, which benefits Holy Family Institute.

And quite simply, Ryan Shazier is the picture of courage.

The award was presented to him at the luncheon by Coach Mike Tomlin, who on a daily basis knows how much courage Shazier shows.

“This is amazing. Amazing,” said Coach Mike Tomlin, who presented the award to Shazier. “None of us were prepared to see what we saw in Cincinnati. We just weren’t. It’s not a football-like injury. When I say to watch him battle this has been amazing, I don’t say it in normal ways I say amazing. We are in awe of Ryan Shazier.”

The award was voted on by his teammates, the ones who have seen his courage on display on a daily basis.

“It shows people are still watching,” said Shazier. “It shows with persistence and hard work you can do anything.

“It really means a lot just to know guys understand I have been going through a lot and I continue to push through it. It also means a lot because it’s the people I play the game of football with and they know how much I care about it, and how much I still care about it. It means a lot that they feel I am the one who deserves this award.”

Shazier, the Steelers No. 1 selection in the 2014 NFL Draft, the 15th player taken overall, faced challenges every year during his young career, missing time for a wide array of injuries that he always battled back from.

But nothing could compare to what he was about to face.

Sometimes it’s cool to be an inspiration to others so I can uplift people, but sometimes you are still trying to uplift yourself. Ryan Shazier

Going into the 2017 season one of Shazier’s goals was to just be healthy, to get through his first season without having to battle the injury bug.

“That is one of the most painful things,” said Shazier back in June, 2017. “It’s not like people get hurt on purpose. I know I have the ability to be one of the best linebackers in the league. I just want to do the best I can to stay healthy, do what I can to help this team and show everybody what I really can do.”

Shazier was doing just that as the 2017 season was rolling along. He led the defense in tackles numerous times in the first few months of the season, had three interceptions and 11 passes defensed. He was on his way to doing what he wanted to do…showing everyone he was one of the best linebackers in the NFL.

On Dec. 4, everything changed.

Shazier suffered a spinal injury against the Cincinnati Bengals that night and underwent spinal stabilization surgery two days later.

He has been an inspiration since that day, taking a positive approach to his recovery. He didn’t sit around feeling sorry for himself, instead getting out and doing everything he could, first coming to Heinz Field for a game, then standing at a Penguins game, walking across the stage at the NFL Draft to announce the Steelers No. 1 pick, and walking across the practice field on his own during training camp much to the delight of Steelers Nation.

When the Steelers played in Cincinnati, he visited the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, the facility he was taken to immediately after the injury, to say thank you to the staff.

Shazier walked on the field at Paul Brown Stadium under his own power, led the linebackers before the game, and inspired the team in their comeback win over the Bengals.

“To me it’s more about showing people that just because things don’t go your way you shouldn’t give up,” said Shazier. “You shouldn’t crawl in a shell and lose hope. I go out there every day and do the best that I can to continue to be like I was before I got hurt. If I don’t try to get back to where I was, or try to get better, I am going to be stuck in a sunken place. I feel like the only way I can do it is be around the people I love and the things I love doing. It helps me.

“It’s great being an inspiration, but it’s tough too. To everybody else it seems like you are recovering so fast or doing so well. But it’s still a battle you have to fight. When you are not on a roller coaster, it seems like a fast ride. When you are dealing with it, it’s a lot rockier than you think. Sometimes it’s cool to be an inspiration to others so I can uplift people, but sometimes you are still trying to uplift yourself.

“Sometimes it’s hard for me. It’s been a long journey. To me, I don’t feel like I am a courageous person. Just the fact I am doing this, pushing this one day at a time. I am thankful I am able to show people that just because somebody tells you it’s over, it’s not over.”

Shazier’s story is one that is still being written. And he is writing it with his own will and determination. The ending, without a shadow of a doubt, will be one of inspiration, strength and courage.

Because quite simply, Ryan Shazier is the picture of courage.

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