As Ryan Shazier walked into the media room at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, aided by nothing more than a cane, cameras clicked and cell phones captured the moment.
Step after step as he approached the podium marked another milestone. Another mark in his recovery. And they were moments that were captured because of the joy and happiness everyone in the room had seeing him take those steps.
Steps that many wondered would he take again. And steps that are a far cry from the first steps he took following his injury.
"When I was in rehab, the first few steps I took me and my family were crying," said Shazier. "Sometimes I look back at my videos and I still cry, but it's all tears of joy. Just to see where you came from, what people thought you would be, to where you are now, and where I plan on being, it makes me appreciate every moment, every single step I take every time I am here with these guys."
Shazier stood proudly at the podium in front of the packed media room, offering heartfelt thanks to those who helped him in his recovery. And then the first question came his way and he gave an answer that six months ago nobody would have ever expected. An answer that if comes to fruition, would be a milestone many could have never imagined.
"My dream is to come back and play football again," said Shazier. "I have been working my tail off every single day. I have that in the back of my mind every single time I go to rehab. I just try to stay positive every single day. I am just trying to do everything I can to get back.
"I played this game since I was four years old. I have loved this game since I was four years old. Just because I got hurt doesn't mean I am going to stop loving the game of football. I feel when you give your best in anything that you do, it makes it easier when something happens to you because you never have to look back and regret that you didn't go hard enough. I gave it everything I have. I got hurt. And I am still going to give it everything I have to come back."
Shazier suffered a spinal injury against the Cincinnati Bengals last season in the Week 13 matchup, and underwent spinal stabilization surgery on December 6. He has been an inspiration since that day, taking a positive approach to his recovery, something that has led him to where he is today.
"I would be a liar if I said there haven't been any bad days," said Shazier. "I feel everybody has some rough days. I promise you if it's 100 days, probably 95 of them are good days and five of them, I am not even going to say five, three of them are neutral days and two of them are bad. I try to stay as positive as possible. At the end of the day you always have some negativity that tries to seep in. I always felt if you have a positive mindset, no matter what you are doing, as long as you are trying to do the best that you can, most likely the best outcome is going to come especially if you are working your tail off. That is the way I feel about this situation. I know, sometimes you will have a bad day, or might be a little sore, but you rest, stay in the house by yourself and play the video game a little longer than you want to, and then get back to the next day and get back to normal."
Getting back to normal was something Shazier attacked. 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, and walking across the stage at the NFL Draft to announce the Steelers No. 1 pick.
"Those things definitely helped feed me," said Shazier. "The first game, coming back with the Terrible Towel. It mean so much to me being there. I have been with this team from the moment I got drafted. Pittsburgh had my back from the moment I got drafted. They might get mad that I drop a pick now and then, but they had my back from the moment I got drafted. Just to know I went back out there. Just to see how happy everyone seemed. How loud the stadium got. To see how many people supported me, it made me realize everybody has my back.
"When I was at Mercy I was getting letters. I have so many letters and gifts from people that I can't even read them all. I am so thankful. It lets me know that this many people are praying for me. I had an elementary school, the whole elementary school, every single kid wrote me a get well soon letter. That is over 500 kids. All of that makes me want to do better. When I go to Penguins games, when I go to Cavaliers games, when I go to Steelers games, when people are cheering it makes me feel like I am back to myself and it allows me to feel like I am getting better, or I am feeling more normal. I know a lot of people get hurt, when they get into certain situations they get into a cave and are like, man, I'm hurt. I notice when I am hurt or dealing with something, when I am trying to be myself, be normal, it makes me feel better and want to do more. I don't want to sit in my house all day when I know I can get out and still have a good time."
More from Shazier:
Have the doctors given you any kind of timetable on returning?
They are just telling me to take it one day at a time. The further we get along in rehab, the better they can give me answers. Right now they said take it day by day. They feel like I am doing a lot better.
Have you surprised yourself at all with what you have been able to do with your recovery?
I am not going to say I surprised myself. I feel like I am doing a lot better than I expected to do at first. I am definitely thankful and trusting the Lord and thanking everybody. All of the support I have been getting from everybody else has allowed me to push even harder. I am not really surprised about where I am, I am just thankful because I know it's a different situation than most people have to deal with.
Why has it been important for you to stay here and do you rehab?
It makes me feel like I'm still myself, feel like I'm still at home. A lot of people like to go places where they can be as comfortable as possible. Being here made it more comfortable for me. Just being able to see my teammates practice and play, being at the facility, being able to study film, learn about the ins and outs of the Steelers organization.
What is the next physical milestone you are looking forward to hitting?
That's a good question. One of the things I am looking forward to doing is to be able to start walking a little bit more without using a cane. If that's in camp I will be happy, if it's the regular season I will be happy. I am just trying to take it one day at a time. At the end of the day I have a final goal and I have little steps ahead of it. But my next step is to be able to walk by myself without any support of a cane or holding anybody's hand.
How scary was that moment when you got hurt?
I am not going to lie. The moment I got hurt, it might have been a little scary. But I just trusted the Lord, I asked Him to continue to watch over my life. I know the Lord always has a bigger purpose. I knew He was going to make sure everything was taken care of, everything was going to be OK. But I am not going to lie, it was a little scary at the moment because I got hurt. I understand football is a dangerous game. I understand that things can happen. I accepted it at the moment. I know sometimes you have some obstacles you are going to have to overcome. I accepted what happened to me and kept pushing forward. I am going to just try to win.
What does your son understand and what do you tell him?
Since he is only 3, it's kind of hard for him to understand. I know he understands Daddy is hurt. He constantly wants to see me get better. Sometimes when I was in a wheelchair he would try to push me in my wheelchair. If I drop my cane, he will help me pick my cane up. It's kind of cool because he sees I am getting better. He will say, 'Come on, Daddy, walk,' or 'Daddy, come do this,' or 'Daddy, come do that.' Before when I was hurt more, he wouldn't ask me to do some of the stuff I am doing now. Just to know he sees I am doing a lot better, knows that I am getting better, means a lot for me and him. The fact that I am getting better allows me to play with him, allows me to do more activities with him that I wasn't able to do three months ago. It really means a lot. I can definitely tell he has learned a lot more than he did.