Sports Community Motivates Injured Lacrosse Player During Recovery
Jack Enright finds motivation in support from family, hometown friends and the nationwide lacrosse community.
The den in Jack Enright’s home is a lacrosse memorabilia collector’s dream – an endless sea of signed jerseys, gloves, sticks and posters from professional stars and entire collegiate teams.
“Lacrosse is a tight-knit community,” says Jack, a 17-year-old senior and former midfielder for Chapin High School in South Carolina. “It’s not the most popular sport. You don’t see it on TV. So when you meet another lacrosse player, it’s an immediate bond.”
He noticed that bond as a middle schooler at his first lacrosse camp, and it’s what hooked him. By the time he was a high school freshman, he was a starter on the varsity team.
Two years later, during a game on March 4, 2015, Jack scored a pair of goals playing, as usual, alongside his brother and co-captain, senior Connor Enright. When a Lexington, S.C., attacker made a run toward Chapin’s goal, Jack sped to defend the shot, arriving just in time. The two athletes met in midair, with the Lexington player coming down awkwardly on Jack’s head.
“I landed on my feet, but my body just crumpled,” he says.
Tests revealed Jack had sustained an incomplete C-6 spinal cord injury. He was paralyzed from the chest down. Overnight, surgeons at Palmetto Health’s Richland Trauma Center in Columbia, S.C., removed fractured pieces of bone and placed a cage between Jack’s C-5 and C-7 vertebrae to take pressure off the C-6 joint.
Teammates and opponents joined hundreds of visitors in the waiting room on Jack’s floor – and waiting rooms on two other floors. Four days after his injury, the captains of the Limestone College Saints lacrosse team visited from Gaffney, S.C., 90 miles north of Chapin. They offered their support and vowed they wouldn’t forget him.
That was just the first wave of inspiration from the lacrosse community. Jack received notes of encouragement from players and coaches across the country. Signed jerseys arrived from Notre Dame’s lacrosse team, Jack’s favorite. Another set came from the University of Denver – jerseys from the team’s 2015 NCAA Division I lacrosse championship. Paul Rabil, the two-time Most Valuable Player and seven-time Major League Lacrosse (MLL) all-star, sent signed posters and jerseys.
The support carried over to Jack’s five-month stay at Shepherd Center. In Atlanta, local lacrosse supporters started a fundraising site (laxforjack.com) for Jack’s medical expenses. Casey Powell, MLL’s all-time leading scorer and former U.S. men’s national team captain visited Jack twice at Shepherd Center.
“The support has been mind-blowing,” Jack says. “I’m just a kid from a small town. But at every moment, there have been so many people out there thinking about me, doing things for me. It’s all the motivation I need.”
Jack completed inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation in Shepherd Center’s Adolescent Spinal Cord Injury Program and the Spinal Cord Injury Day Program.
“For five months, Jack gave it his all, day after day,” says Erin Shirk, MS, OTR/L, one of Jack’s therapists. “His success in rehabilitation was a result of his constant determination, creative problem-solving and friendly, easy-going personality. Jack trusted the process and never allowed the frustrations to get in the way of his progress.”
His mother, Ann Enright, says Shepherd Center's staff made it easy for Jack to trust them.
“They know what they’re doing,” Ann says. “They equipped him with so many tools, both physically and mentally. That kind of support means everything. A lot has been added to Jack’s life, despite what has been taken away.”
One of the most difficult things about Jack’s stay at Shepherd Center was being separated from his brother Connor. The two have been inseparable most of their life. Jack is the daredevil, the guy doing backflips on the lacrosse field, the outgoing one. Connor is the quiet one, dependable, the rock. Fortunately, having recently received his official acceptance, Jack will be reunited with Connor this fall as a student at Clemson University.
While college is a big step for Jack, he continues to take even bigger steps in his recovery. One recent afternoon, Jack walked 1,600 feet unassisted, using only a cane. Jack credits his progress to the overwhelming kindness of his family, friends and, yes, strangers. It’s something he thinks about when he looks at the tie-dye-colored bracelet on his wrist, one of hundreds that a friend made while Jack was at Shepherd Center. One side reads, “Pray for Jack.” The other has #28 imprinted on it – Jack’s Chapin High jersey number.
And it’s something he thinks about when remembering how the Limestone College Saints stayed true to their vow. When Limestone played for the NCAA Division II championship last year, they did so with “Pray 4 Jack” stickers affixed to their helmets. After they won, they presented Jack with an honorary championship ring.
“When I’m tired or not feeling like doing my exercises, I stop and tell myself, ‘look, there are so many people who wish they could be where you are,’” Jack says. “I think it would be a slap in the faces of everyone else if I didn’t keep pushing myself. I want to take advantage of the second chance that so many people have worked to give me.”
By Phillip Jordan
Photos by Gary Meek
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 900 inpatients, 575 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year.