Supporting injured young athletes
01:35 - Source: CNN

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Story highlights

Eddie Canales was named one of the top 10 CNN Heroes of 2011

Canales is helping young football players who've suffered spinal cord injuries

His nonprofit, Gridiron Heroes, provides support for players and their families

CNN  — 

Eddie Canales’ nonprofit, Gridiron Heroes, provides emotional and financial support to high school football players who’ve sustained life-changing spinal cord injuries.

Canales’ son Chris was paralyzed during a high school football game in 2001. But it was a year later when the two came up with the idea to help other kids and their families.

Eddie and Chris were watching a high school football game from the stands when they saw another player suffer a spinal cord injury. They reached out to the injured player and his family, and within months, Gridiron Heroes was born.

CNN asked Canales for his thoughts on being chosen as one of the top 10 CNN Heroes of 2011.

CNN: Where you were when you got the call that you’d been selected as a top 10 CNN Hero?

Eddie Canales: I was sitting at the dining room table, going over information about an event we hosted the weekend before.

I was so excited! I was listening to the other details, thinking to myself, “This is what Gridiron Heroes needs: creating awareness on a big picture.”

CNN: What do you hope this recognition will mean to Gridiron Heroes?

Canales: What a difference it could have to be able to help so many more high school football players all across the nation. …

I was just pumping my fist, saying to myself: “Yes! Yes! Yes!” What a blessing. I had goose bumps going down my arms.

I looked up and gave thanks to the Lord above. My eyes started to water, because I know my dad is looking down. And I said, “Dad, you were right!”

One of the last things my dad did was to bring me grant-writing information, telling me that I might need some of this information because Gridiron Heroes was going to be big and this would go nationwide. He went into the hospital that same day and passed a week later. I know he is smiling down on me.

CNN: How will you use the $50,000 award that you receive for being selected as a top 10 CNN Hero?

Canales: One of my goals has always been to create an educational fund for these guys, because some of them are getting of that age now where they want to go to school.

The state requires you take a full (class schedule) to get funding; a lot of them can’t do that. (We want to) get them back three semester hours, six semester hours – whatever they think they can handle –and let them go back to school.

CNN: What do you want people to know most about your work?

Canales: Gridiron Heroes is not about deterring anyone from playing football. The game and the injury is the bond all these young athletes have. (But) these kids need help, and the families need help.

More attention should be given to what happens to the athlete after an injury has taken place. More attention should be given to the huge disparity in the level of support provided by the football community for those injured on a high school level compared to a collegiate or professional level.

I am hoping that the football community can come together to make sure these young athletes are never forgotten.

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