The first words James “Woody” Beckham remembers shouting were: “pour ice on my neck.”
“I knew instantly I had a spinal cord injury,” said Beckham, recalling the injury that happened this past January when he was a student at Florida Atlantic University playing in a rugby game versus the University of Miami.
Beckham, 23, was airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital. He spent two and a half months there, suffering a broken neck and a spinal cord injury. After undergoing spinal fusion surgery, he was moved to Jackson Rehabilitation Hospital.
Today, Beckham is a student at the Wolfson Campus, majoring in accounting.
“Ideally my goals are to get a full-time job that I love, graduate with a bachelor’s, walk and hopefully have a relationship. Just regular goals,” Beckham said. “For a normal person they are regular, but its a little bit more challenging for me.”
Beckham has no control of his hands or fingers, causing him to wear assistive gears to help him perform everyday tasks such as eating and writing. He does physical therapy in Coconut Grove three days a week.
In addition, Beckham has a hook on the back of his iPhone so he can use it. He is able to tap his phone with his knuckles and because of the gadget’s touch screen sensitivity he can answer and make phone calls.
“It is such a small simple thing, but it gets him right back to society just because [he] is on his iPhone,” said Bill Beckham, Woody’s father. “It’s a way back into his life.”
Beckham began taking classes at the College during the summer. He is currently taking introduction to microcomputers and an accounting course at night.
“Woody had to give up on his prior studies of ocean engineering, as he was told he was going to need his hands for his math and science courses,” Woody’s father said. “So he fell back on being an accounting major. He’s very intelligent.”
The College’s ACCESS department, a program that assists students with disabilities to reach their goals, offered some help during Bekham’s first semester on campus. The program provided him with a note taker for his statistics class.
“I wanted to finish my degree for myself and be as smart as possible because that will help me out,”Beckham said. “My mind is my biggest asset.”
During his therapy at rehab, Beckham was motivated by David Mills, a close family friend, who wanted to start a community service project to help reduce the population of venomous lionfish in the Bahamas. They turned the idea into a fishing tournament to raise money for Jackson Rehabilitation Hospital, where does occupational therapy.
The 2011 Lionfish Bash fishing tournament killed more than 300 lionfish in South Bimini, Bahamas and raised $20,000 for the rehab center.
“I wanted to raise the money for the rehab center so they can upgrade their equipment and recreational activities offered to patients,” Beckham said.
Beckham still loves the ocean, it is what drew him to his previous major, ocean engineering. But now, he has new aspirations.
“I have a dream to start my own business and have a product that is influential to help people with disabilities,” Beckham said.
David Mills, is confident his friend will reach his goals.
“Woody is epic for so many reasons, look at what he’s done in his life since the accident,” Mills said. “He’s still Woody, inspirational and a boss.”