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Amputee athlete: 'I just tried to stay positive'

Neil Parry:
Neil Parry: "Being down, you know, that's not going to get me anywhere."

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(CNN) -- Neil Parry achieved his dream when he became a walk-on for the San Jose State Spartans football team.

But during a game in his second year, he broke his leg in two places. Infection set in, and his leg was amputated. Twenty-five surgeries, 15 prosthetic legs and untold hours of painful rehabilitation later, Parry returned to the gridiron. He spoke with CNN anchor Paula Zahn the following day.

ZAHN: Neil, tell us a little bit about the feeling once you got out there on the field for the first time in three years.

PARRY: Well, just being out there, being out there with the team warming up, you know, it's just a different feeling than going out and just watching the game. So I was excited to be with the team again, you know, just knowing I was going to get in the game was -- it was overwhelming.

ZAHN: I've got to tell you, I'm looking at these pictures and I'm looking at your speed and I'm looking at your agility, and it seems almost like a miracle you can do what you're doing today.

PARRY: Well it's -- you know, it's a good thing for technology -- the technology of prosthetics. You know, it's come a long way in 10 years, and that's what's allowed me to get back on the football field.

ZAHN: I'm trying to imagine what it must have been like when you were sitting in the hospital wondering whether you would ever be able to walk around, let alone play football again. And you made a vow so early on after this very serious injury, you would go back to doing this again. Was there any point during this rehab period where you second-guessed yourself about making that vow?

After years of watching his team play, Neil Parry is able to return to the field.
After years of watching his team play, Neil Parry is able to return to the field.

PARRY: Oh, yes, there was. You know, there were points when something would go wrong and I would think to myself, Can this be done? But, you know, I just called my brother and talked to him. And he'd [say I] would get through it, and I would just go work out again and, you know, everything would work out.

You know, but there was -- you know, I'd be lying if I didn't say I didn't think I could do it, you know? There were always points where I was down, and -- you know, but I always picked myself back up because -- I mean, being down, you know, that's not going to get me anywhere and that's get me what I want. So I just tried to stay positive.

ZAHN: I understand as you look far down the road, you might want to coach football someday. This football thread has been a very important thing in your life, hasn't it? What has it meant to you?

PARRY: Yes. Well, football -- it means so much more to me than just -- it's not just a game to me or my brother. You know, we started playing together when we were in fourth grade, so -- and then football is the only reason I came to San Jose State. You know, I probably wouldn't even have gone to school if it wasn't for football. You know, I was never that kind of -- I wasn't really into the studies. You know, I went to work full-time when I got out of high school.

And then my brother talked me into coming to San Jose State and playing football with him. And, you know, I walked on, as you said in the piece, and ended up playing my first two years and -- you know, that's when I got hurt, in my second year. And they gave me a scholarship. So, you know, I'm going to finish school and graduate because of football, and I just hope I can stay in football, you know, whether it be coaching or in administration or something.

ZAHN: Somehow I think that might be in the cards. Just a final thought on what the rest of us can learn from your story.

PARRY: Well, I don't know. I guess if you just want something bad enough, just keep going for it, you know, no matter what goes wrong, you know? It took me three years to finally get on the field, but hey, you know, I did it.


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