Imagine this: a collegiate dual-sport national champion gets a spot on an NFL roster. The dream realized is quickly shattered when a tragic car accident nearly costs him his life. Uncertain as to whether he’d ever walk again, returning to the field is definitely out of the question.
Or is it?
This is the true story of former LSU safety Chad Jones, chronicled in a new short documentary, "Always A Fire". Directors Nathan Caswell and Jeremiah Zagar unveil the road to recovery through intimate interviews with Jones and his trainers along with never-before-seen rehab footage.
Jones’ athleticism attracted plenty of attention well before he reached the pro level. A blue-chip prospect at Southern Laboratory (Baton Rouge, La.), Jones was considered one of the best safeties in the nation. He was equally skilled on the baseball diamond, and the Houston Astros took him in the 13th round of the 2007 draft. But Jones elected to go to college instead.
At LSU, Jones was a member of the 2007 football and 2009 baseball national championship teams. After his junior season, Jones entered the 2010 NFL Draft and was selected by the New York Giants in the third round.
What was to be a budding professional career came to a screaming halt.
A tragic car accident nearly destroyed Jones’ left leg. Doctors inserted a metal rod and five screws and told Jones he might not walk again.
"Always A Fire" tracks Jones' long and intense recovery process and can be viewed online. Warning: the film contains graphic footage.
We caught up with Jones for an additional take.
What was your reaction to the final cut?
Jones: It motivated me to work harder. A lot of people know what I went through and that I have the determination to overcome and fight all the tribulations the doctors threw at me.
How has the recovery process shifted your perception of what your body’s capable of?
It’s so strange how my body recovers. I have a great appreciation for the human body. What you put into it is what you get out of it. You’ve got to take care of it to the best of your abilities to get the max performance out of it.
How did you react to being told your ability to walk again was uncertain?
I heard what the doctor said. It went in one ear and out the other. No disrespect to him, but I was taught to not let anyone say you can’t do anything. ‘Can’t’ to me is a curse word. The first thing I told my family was that I was going to play football again.
In the film you’re shown relearning how to walk. What was the process like?
It was frustrating and took a big toll on my mind.
I couldn’t put any pressure on my legs so I did workouts in the pool. I ran against jets and did weights in the pool. As my leg got stronger, I took my training to ground surface where I walked on a regular treadmill.
I wanted to take it to another level, so I started jogging. That’s when I got into an AlterG anti-gravity treadmill. It took up to 80 percent of my bodyweight off so I could jog on a hard surface. That helped tremendously. Then I got off the treadmill and started running on flat ground.
Was the recovery process intimidating?
Definitely. There were weeks, even months, when I felt there was no progress, and there were days I didn’t want to come in. Those days are going to come and go, but you’ve got to always have something to fight through. That something was looking at my family. My son is my driving force. I’m just trying to get back on that field to satisfy him and my peace of mind.
Not all athletes can empathize with your experience. What’s the message you hope they understand after watching the film?
I’m a living testament to the guy who’s not giving up on his hopes and dreams. Fight for what you want. Your body is your body. If you believe in what you can do, don’t let anyone hold you back. You’re limitless.