ATHENS, Ga. — Devon Gales is coming home.
And at some point in the near future, he and his family will have a new home to go to, as representatives of the Georgia-based Triumph Over Tragedy Foundation on Thursday launched an initiative to raise funds to build a new house for the Gales family.
The 21-year-old Gales, a third-year sophomore wide receiver for Southern, suffered a severe spinal injury in September when the Jaguars played at Georgia and has spent the past five months at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta.
At a news conference Thursday at the University of Georgia’s athletic complex, Gales, a Baton Rouge native and Central High school graduate, pronounced himself ready to face the challenges that await him and said there was one major task on his to-do list that he can’t wait to fulfill.
“It’s going to be different — I’m going to have to learn a different way of doing things,” said Gales, in a wheelchair flanked by his father, Donny, and stepmother Tanisha. “But I just want to see my teammates and let them know I’m OK and that I’ll be fine.”
Reggie Jones and Wesley Jones, founders of the Triumph Over Tragedy Foundation, also were on hand Thursday morning to share their thoughts about the family and announce plans to raise money — through the sale of T-shirts and hoodies honoring Gales — for a fully adaptive house for the family.
“We’ve enjoyed getting to know this family, and tomorrow represents a new, different challenge for Devon,” said Wesley Jones, who was paralyzed in an accident nearly 30 years ago. “I remember going home for the first time, and I found that it was harder going home than it was being in the hospital. The Bulldog Nation has grabbed this family with love, and we’re going to build them a new house because that’s what they deserve. ... Thank you, Devon, for being such an inspiration.”
Also during Thursday’s news conference, Athens-Clarke County Mayor Nancy Denson presented Gales with a proclamation recognizing him as an honorary citizen of the city.
“You are an inspiration to me and an inspiration to people who will never even meet you, all because of your spirit,” Denson said to Gales. “You belong to us, and we’re happy you have a connection to Athens — we’re here for you.”
Gales, whose infectious smile has become a sight many identify him by, said he didn’t look at his injury as a setback but rather a blessing and vowed that he would one day walk again.
“I thank the Lord for putting us through this and keeping us strong,” he said. “And I want to thank the University of Georgia for everything. Coach (Bryant) Gantt (UGA football program coordinator) came to see me every Wednesday and coach (Ron) Courson (UGA director of sports medicine) came to see me every Sunday. They reminded me that there are still beautiful people out there in the world.”
Gales, who fractured his C6 vertebra and endured a 4½-hour surgery at Athens Regional Medical Center the day after Southern’s game at Georgia, said he’s had some feeling in his knee and the bottom of his feet and added he could feel his foot kicking a soccer ball during his rehabilitation session Wednesday.
“It’s a blessing to know the feeling is coming back,” he said.
When asked about his future plans, Gales said he intends to return to Southern to continue his studies, adding that the longer you stay away from school, the harder it is to go back.
“I’m ready to get back in school,” he said. “I plan to take one or two classes just to have a feel for school again, and I’ll do whatever I can to stay in shape until I come back home.”
Gales was set to visit with administrators and staffers in UGA’s athletic department and dined with other student-athletes (including Nick Chubb, who was sporting a Gales T-shirt) on Thursday afternoon. Before departing for Baton Rouge, he was scheduled to visit Athens Regional Medical Center.
Donny Gales said after Thursday’s news conference that his son would be back home for a few weeks before returning to the Shepherd Center for several months of continued outpatient rehabilitation.
“I know he’ll walk again because the Lord has a plan for him,” Donny Gales said.
For information on the Triumph Over Tragedy Foundation, call (678) 654-8450 or visit www.givetotriumph.info.