Antron Jackson, (on right) a volunteer-track coach at Miami Carol City Senior High School, leads a practice session at the school, Wednesday, May 2, 2012, in Miami Gardens. DANIEL BOCK / FOR THE MIAMI HERALD
By Janey Tate
Read in The Miami Herald
Days before Antron Jackson was to enroll at Florida State University on a full track and field scholarship, he was involved in a car accident that left him paralyzed for a month.
The star athlete from Miami Carol City Senior High had to face a strong likelihood that he wouldn’t walk again, much less compete.
A year later, after months and months of physical therapy, Jackson, now 20, is walking and even jogging. In fact, he is helping to coach the track and field team at his alma mater. He coaches the three events he competed in: the long jump, triple jump and high jump, which he won first place at the 2010 state competition.
“They need a little more push to get there,” said Jackson. “I’m trying my best to bring the best out of the athletes.”
Jackson’s life would change on Dec. 31, 2010. While riding with friends to Bayside Marketplace to celebrate the New Year, Jackson was in an accident. He and his friends were driving south on Northwest 32nd Avenue about 10:30 p.m. They were making a left turn onto Northwest 185th Street when the car behind them plowed into the back of their car. Jackson was sitting in the back seat.
The driver of that car, Eric T. Collins, fled and was arrested by Miami Gardens Police. He was charged with leaving the scene of an accident involving injury or death and driving with a suspended license. A trial is pending.
“He hit us from behind,” said Jackson. “We didn’t even see him coming.”
Jackson was airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Ryder Trauma Center. He remembers being put in the helicopter; he suffered spinal cord injuries and broke his neck.
Dr. Michael Wang, a neurosurgeon at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, performed the four-hour emergency surgery at Jackson.
“The surgery was very complex, but he had no complications,” said Wang.
Only 2 percent of people with severe spinal injuries like Jackson’s return to any kind of movement, Wang said.
“It’s hard to put a comparison on this,” said Wang. “He has had an amazing recovery,”
Jill Caldwell, Jackson’s physical therapist at Jackson Memorial Hospital, credits his years of athletic training to helping him recover.
“You can see the athlete in him,” Caldwell said. “He didn’t want to walk. He wanted to run.”
Says Jackson: “I just knew I didn’t want to be in a wheelchair. I prayed every night.”
Barbara Smith, Jackson’s mother, said when she heard news of the accident her only concern was her son’s survival. The mother of two sons did not want to lose her baby boy.
“The word was that he would never walk again, but I didn’t accept that as a mother,” said Smith, 60. “I just prayed.”
Smith said her son remained optimistic throughout his month-long stay at Jackson Memorial Hospital.
Jackson said his mother’s prayers and his faith kept him going during the rough times.
“I had a lot of faith in God and support from my family and friends,” said Jackson.
Xavier McCray, the team’s head coach, said Jackson has been a positive addition to the coaching staff.
“He brought that spirit back,” he noted. “Because he has gone through our program, the kids listen to him.”
Juan Paul Green, one of the team’s jumpers, said he has improved since Jackson began coaching him in the long jump in February.
“I’ve jumped two inches further,” said Green, 18. “I’m confident he can take us far.”
Jackson said he finds joy in coaching. One of his athletes, Edward Rolle, advanced to the state championship in the high jump.
“It’s like watching myself compete when I was their age,” said Jackson.
Although he plans to enroll in Miami Dade College’s School of Aviation in the fall, he says he will continue to coach at Carol City.
“Since the accident, my career as an athlete is over, and I have accepted it, but it’s not over for me in life. I just want to give back.”