Former Washington Redskins running back Ken Jenkins and caddy watch a shot at Walking with Anthony’s third annual charity celebrity golf tournament and dinner.
ANGELA WOOLSEY/FAIRFAX COUNTY TIMES
After breaking his neck while diving into the ocean during a 2010 trip to Miami for the Super Bowl, Anthony Purcell was told by doctors that he would likely never walk again.
The accident prompted his mother Micki Purcell and other family members to start the non-profit foundation Walking with Anthony, which is dedicated to helping people affected by spinal cord injuries.
Micki, who is the organization’s president, founded Walking with Anthony in large part because insurance companies only cover spinal cord injuries for the first 20 days.
“They don’t think that someone can improve who gets hurt, and I’ve proven them wrong,” Micki said. “My son was strapped into an electric chair. He’s now benching 190 pounds, he’s taking steps, he’s back to work, he has a girlfriend, and he’s driving. All of this is from extensive rehab. The medical [community] doesn’t understand that, but we’re making a difference.”
Walking with Anthony aims to support victims and families who might not have the money to afford the rehab and equipment that Anthony got. Its website also provides information for people who don’t know where to look for the proper resources.
The foundation held its third annual charity celebrity golf tournament and dinner, its cornerstone fundraising event, at the Country Club of Fairfax on Sept. 21.
Since the event’s inception, Walking with Anthony has partnered with the Washington Redskins Alumni, which brings out many former players to compete and meet with fans and donors. This year, the charity also joined with the Redskins Charitable Foundation and the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, which researches treatments and cures for paralysis caused by spinal cord injuries.
“I feel a common bond to [spinal cord injury victims], because I played a sport where I was subject to the same exact violence with spinal, head and neck injuries,” Richard “Doc” Walker, who emceed the dinner for the third year in a row, said. “It didn’t happen to me, but it could’ve.”
The former Redskins and Cincinnati Bengals tight end was joined at the charity event by several other players from the Washington, D.C. NFL franchise’s past, including linebacker Rich Milot, wide receiver and 1984 Hall of Fame inductee Charley Taylor, and wide receiver Roy Jefferson.
Because the Purcells have always been hardcore Redskins fans, Micki reached out to the team early on when she first started putting together the golf tournament in 2013, and the alumni association agreed to help immediately.
“Everybody realized at the beginning that it was a good cause,” Redskins Alumni Association president and former NFL placekicker Mark Moseley said. “They’ve made such huge strides just over the last 10 years with what they’re able to do now with young people that break their necks and have these injuries similar to what Anthony has.”
In addition to the golf tournament, which featured teams of four or five and required a $500 entry fee per person, and a banquet dinner, the Walking with Anthony charity event had silent and live auctions for various sports and entertainment memorabilia, passes for gyms and golf venues, and travel packages. Sponsors like Global Cash Card and Golf-Topia also donated raffle prizes.
One of the day’s highlights was the surprise donation of $10,000 to this year’s honoree and Brett Gravatt, a Dunn Loring resident and former player on the Penn State men’s soccer team who fractured his #6 Thoracic vertebrae in a 2014 snowboarding accident.
Since his accident, Gravatt has gotten involved in wheelchair racing and will use the money to pay for training and travel expenses as he prepares to potentially participate in marathons and competitions.
“[I’m] just speechless, just so overly blessed by the community that’s surrounded me so quickly after having an accident like this,” Gravatt said after finding out about the donation. “Foundations like Walking with Anthony are huge to people who are new to injuries. It helps people, for lack of a better term, get back on their feet.”
The evening ended with a video that showcased Anthony’s rehab and recovery process. After snippets of workouts with various pieces of exercise equipment, the montage concluded with footage of Anthony walking in braces, a sight that brought the room of donors and former football players to its feet.
Both Gravatt and Anthony called the mental aspect of becoming disabled more challenging than the physical difficulties. Anthony said that it is important for anyone with a spinal cord injury to stay positive and celebrate the small victories.
“A lot of people see it as physical because that’s just our appearance,” Anthony said, “but what happens behind closed doors when we put our heads on our pillow at night is pretty scary stuff. To get through that is a win right there.”