Ryan Shazier personifies what the award he received on Thursday night is all about.
Shazier was presented with the Courage Award at the Jerome Bettis Bus Stops Here Foundation ‘Caring for Kids’ dinner.
And quite simply, Ryan Shazier is the picture of courage.
“It shows people are still watching,” said Shazier of receiving the award. “It shows with persistence and hard work you can do anything.
“I am truly thankful that they thought of me for this award. They look at me as courageous, but I am just being a football player. I feel like I have a regular injury and I am just doing everything I can to get better. I am working my tail off.
“I am just thankful that other people see how hard I am working and are willing to give me an award for it.”
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.
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.
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
On Dec. 4, things changed for Shazier.
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.
“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. 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 doesn't seem 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.”
One of Shazier’s doctors, UPMC neurosurgeon Dr. Joseph Maroon, was also honored at the dinner with the Humanitarian Award.
“He has been a great friend and a great doctor, mentor,” said Shazier. “I also want to thank Dr. David Okonkwo because both of them were in there doing my surgery. They did an amazing job. If I have something going on I can text them and let them know how I am feeling. It helps them because I can help the next person. He deserves the award. He probably should have gotten it a long time ago. I am thankful I was honored on the same stage as him on the same day.”