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Courtesy Porter Hancock
Porter Hancock was paralyzed in a football accident when he was a junior at South Summit High, but it hasn't slowed him down. He will participate in the Ragnar Relay's Wasatch Back this weekend with a team raising money for Neuroworx.
I think I realized all the blessing I had in my life, and it changed my mindset to see this was more of an opportunity than a tragic accident that I was stuck with and now my life is never going to be the same. —Porter Hancock

A tragic accident may have changed Porter Hancock’s life, but it did not diminish it.

In fact, Hancock loves his life so much, it’s difficult for him to call what happened to him his junior year of high school a tragedy.

“A couple of times I thought ‘Why me?’ but it never lasted longer than a day or two,” he said. “I think I realized all the blessing I had in my life, and it changed my mindset to see this was more of an opportunity than a tragic accident that I was stuck with and now my life is never going to be the same.”

He is not saying that dislocating the C5 and C6 vertebrae in his neck during a football game at South Summit High School in October of 2011 was not terrible, unfortunate or awful.

“It was a tragic accident because you don’t expect it and it’s totally life-altering,” he said. “But if you live with that mentality throughout the injury, you’re always going to be in that negative connotation. “

In fact, he said he never he said that once he understood his injury, all of his attention and energy went to rebuilding his life.

“Once I got injured, that’s not where my mind was — what I lost or what I couldn’t do anymore,” he said. “I thought about what was possible. There are limitations everywhere, no matter what your situation. I just wanted to see how hard I could push myself to be as independent and capable as possible, no matter what anyone else thinks.” That attitude led him on a path that he says has been littered with unexpected blessings. He doesn’t see the wheelchair as a life sentence, but as a vehicle to help him achieve new and ever-changing goals.

“I play on a rugby team, and I travel all over the United States participating in tournaments,” he said. “The people I’ve met, the stories they’ve shared, I’ve had so many opportunities to meet people I’d never have been able to meet if I hadn’t been injured. I’ve just had so many opportunities to inspire and motivate people along the way.”

Hancock, now 21 and recently married, will conquer a new goal this weekend when he participates in the Ragnar Relay’s Wasatch Back with a team from Neuroworx, the outpatient physical therapy facility where he spent months learning how to live with the new realities of his mostly paralyzed body. The long distance relay features 400 teams of 12 or six runners who start in Logan Friday morning and finish in Soldier Hollow on Saturday.

Certain sections of the nearly 200-mile course have been approved for handcycles, so Neuroworx organized several teams with a hand cyclist on each team to cover those parts of the course. Hancock said he’s excited to participate in something that his wife, Sage Hancock, participated in last year.

“It’s not like I needed to be convinced,” he said laughing. “It’s who I am. Once I found out they were allowing hand cycles and that I could do it with my wife, I saw it as an opportunity to raise money for Neuroworx. My wife really enjoyed it.”

Hancock said one of the more difficult aspects of his life after the injury is how other people see him.

“You can instantly tell,” he said of the looks people give him when he’s out in public. “It’s not a look of, ‘Hey, look what he’s doing. He’s doing all of these things some people can’t.’ It’s more of, ‘Oh, wow, that would suck. That’s terrible.’ And that really is one of the hardest parts. I don’t think like that, and I don’t want people to think like that about me.”

He said he tries to ignore those looks of pity or pretend he doesn’t feel the sympathy. If he could say something to them, it would be to simply understand that his life is pretty awesome.

“I do have a great life,” he said. “I love all the things I’ve been able to do. I mean, there are parts of it that suck, so they do have part of it right. I am in a wheelchair and I do have to do things differently and most things are a lot harder for me.”

But he’s also as capable, as adventurous and as competitive as he’s ever been, and that’s the message he wants people to take from his efforts in Ragnar and in rugby, as well as when he speaks to groups about adaptation and perseverance.

“When I speak to people, I tell them,” he said, “that with a strong mindset you can get past any physical limitations or barrier there is.”