The last time Ryan Shazier stepped onto the field at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, nearly a year ago, he was carried back off on a gurney.
On December 4, 2017, Shazier, a linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, was involved in a head-on hit while attempting to tackle a Cincinnati Bengals player. Immediately following the collision, Shazier collapsed on the field and placed his hand on the middle of his back, and though he was capable of rolling to his side, he wasn’t able to move his legs.
Tests the next day revealed that Shazier, now 26, experienced a spinal contusion, according to the New York Daily News, and he underwent a stabilization surgery two days later. Doctors were uncertain if he would ever walk again.
But on Sunday, Shazier — having made miraculous strides in his recovery — was on hand to watch the Steelers when they returned to face the Bengals in Cinncinati.
Just before the start of the game, Shazier walked onto the field for the first time since his injury, and NFL reporter Aditi Kinkhabwala was there to capture the emotional moment on video.
“It’s been a long journey, but this is still a ways to go,” Shazier tweeted on Sunday, along with a video about his recovery.
“But it all started here in Cincinnati. Today was an amazing day I was so thankful to be able to tell everyone thank you.”
On Saturday, Shazier visited UC Health’s University of Cincinnati Medical Center, to thank the doctors and staff who cared for him following his injury.
In April, during the first night of the 2018 NFL Draft, Shazier left the NFL world in awe when he walked across the stage while accompanied by his wife. The crowd at AT&T Stadium erupted in applause at the heartwarming sight of Shazier walking on his own. For many fans, it was their first time seeing the NFL player since that night in December.
“I’m truly blessed and humbled from all the prayers, love, and support that I have received,” Shazier posted on Twitter after his presentation. “This is what keeps me going.”
Shazier has continually documented his journey on social media, and revealed in July that he and his wife, Michelle, are expecting a baby boy.
Though he may never play in a professional football game again, Shazier has remained focused on working toward that goal throughout his rehabilitation.
“My end goal is to allow the Lord to let me come back and play at the high level that I was before,” Shazier told NFL.com in March.
He continued: “Every day I try to get better. I strive for the Hall of Fame and I was doing that through this year, the whole time I was playing. And I still do that while I’m doing rehab.”
Whether he ever plays again or not, he is still making an impact on his teammates — the Steelers won in dramatic fashion over the Bengals with Shazier in attendance, scoring a touchdown in the closing seconds of the game to win 28-21.
“This is a place that we’ll always remember,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told reporters on Sunday, according to the Washington Post. “Not just for football, but for life.”