Two find bond recovering from spinal injury

Golfer Jerry Segal has been cheering for former Penn State football player Adam Taliaferro.

By Joe Juliano

Like the 100,000-plus others who attended the Penn State football season opener earlier this month, Jerry Segal cried and cheered when Adam Taliaferro led the Nittany Lions out of the tunnel, less than one year after a spinal injury had left him temporarily paralyzed.

Segal had other reasons to react, though, in addition to the pure joy of the moment. He had followed Taliaferro's intense rehabilitation from Day 1, as a member of the board of trustees at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital and as one who had defied the odds by walking despite having no feeling below his neck.

Segal, 60, a Center City attorney, was left a quadriplegic in 1988 after unsuccessful neck surgery, but has learned to walk, play golf and perform everyday functions through memorization and visual feedback with the help of his treatment and therapy at Magee.

On Friday, the Friends of Jerry Segal will conduct the 12th annual Jerry Segal Classic golf tournament at Green Valley Country Club in Lafayette Hill and Meadowlands Country Club in Blue Bell to raise money for Magee. More than $2.25 million has been raised thus far, much of that for special equipment and services that has helped Taliaferro and other patients walk again.

Segal wanted to bring Taliaferro in from Penn State for the event, but the young man from Voorhees, Camden County, will be busy, as a student assistant coach under Joe Paterno.

"He's a college kid again, back to doing what he used to do, and he's helping the team," Segal said Friday. "What better success story is there than a guy going back to work to help other people?

"I've told him, he will have more of an impact on the lives of other people because of this than he would as a first-round draft choice."

Taliaferro was injured on Sept. 23, 2000, when he suffered a fractured vertebra in his neck and a bruised spinal cord while making a tackle. He underwent spinal fusion surgery two days later, and doctors questioned whether he could ever walk again. He began a three-month stay at Magee in October.

"I was there talking to patients on the day his father came in," Segal said, referring to Andre Taliaferro. "I told him I have the same injury as his son. He said, 'Really? But you're standing and walking.' I said, 'That's correct. I walked out of here and it's going to be the same thing with your son. He's going to walk out of here.' "

The elder Taliaferro told Segal - whose spinal cord is connected, as Adam Taliaferro's is - that doctors did not believe his son would ever walk again, but Segal would not hear of it. Nor was he any less optimistic the first time he met Adam Taliaferro.

"The room was warm but the young man was wrapped in a blanket and shivering. That's what spinal cord injuries will do," he said. "A pretty girl was rubbing his head when I came in on my crutches and I said, 'Hey, you can have the crutches. Let this girl rub my head.'

"He smiled that infectious smile and asked me if I was Mr. Segal. We started talking and I said, 'Adam, there's no rhyme or reason you can't get out of here. You're further along than I was. I'm standing here and able to walk and play golf. If you work hard and stay focused, you will walk out of here.' "

Taliaferro was tireless in his rehabilitation. Segal joined him a couple of days a week as part of his regular Magee therapy.

Taliaferro left Magee on Jan. 5 and returned for therapy. He returned to Penn State in May. Then came Sept. 1.

Segal, who lives in Haverford, joined Taliaferro and his family for a tailgate party a couple of hours before Penn State's game against Miami. Doctors were telling Adam that he should take it easy and walk out on to the field.

"I said to Adam, 'Can't you run?' " Segal recalled. "He said, 'I'd love to be able to run out there, but what happens if I fall down?' I said, 'Hey, if you fall down, you get up. There's 110,000 people wanting to see you. If you think you can do it, then you can. Stay focused and you can do it.' "

On the advice of doctors, Taliaferro first walked out of the tunnel, then started skipping. As the crowd's roar grew more deafening, he broke into a jog.

"The place went absolutely crazy," Segal said. "I'm in the stands and I'm crying my eyes out. Sure, I would have loved to see Penn State win that game, but the score didn't matter. It was truly a victory for the human spirit and overcoming unbelievable odds because of sheer will, work ethic and focus, and the work of the people at Magee."

Since meeting the Taliaferro family, Segal has persuaded Andre Taliaferro to serve on the executive committee of the Friends of Jerry Segal.

Segal is grateful for the recognition being given Magee for its work with Taliaferro, and that "we can see the fruits of our labor" when people such as Taliaferro use the equipment purchased through funds raised by the Jerry Segal Classic.

"I think this has opened up a whole new vista," he said. "You learn to appreciate the fact that people can see past the wheelchair. Magee doesn't let you think about the moment of your injury and let you wallow in self-pity. They have you thinking about your future."

Segal wants there to be more success stories, which is why it is rewarding to see that the tournament is sold out, with 36 foursomes scheduled to go Friday on each of two courses. He hopes to top last year's total of $400,000 in funds raised.

He still loves to golf, especially with his 5-year-old grandson. He admits that a swing change has him feeling a little frustrated. He will lose his balance and fall down, but he continues to play by what he calls "The Segal Rules," which state: "If Segal falls down, Segal gets up by himself."

"I'm not smart enough to quit," he said. "I just keep going. Sometimes the swing works, and sometimes it doesn't."

Joe Juliano's e-mail address is

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[This message was edited by Max on September 30, 2001 at 10:48 AM.]