Rasul "Rocky" Clark, 27, died last week while hospitalized. The native of south suburban Robbins was a 16-year-old running back for the Eisenhower High School football team when a tackle left him paralyzed.
"My son never felt sorry for himself," said his mother, Annette Clark. Clark used his injury to further football safety and helped found an organization that gave support to similarly injured athletes. He also used his position to advocate for health care for high school athletes after his policy expired.
Saturday's service was only supposed to last an hour, but ended up continuing for more than two hours because so many people wanted to share their stories about Rocky.
"I hope when I come to pass on this earth, I will have done the same thing he would ever wanted me to do," said friend Eddie Payton. "The Lord placed his hand on his shoulder, he didn't give him a handicap he gave him an opportunity and Rocky made the best of it."
Don Grossnickle was one of several speakers to honor Rocky and his unsuccessful battle to keep the health insurance that covered the cost of his constant care. Most quadriplegics live less than 10 years. Rocky thrived much longer.
"I can teach, Rocky Clark says. Will you listen?" Grossnickle said. While Grossnickle spoke about the need for every athlete in Illinois to have catastrophic health insurance, another injured athlete player talked about how Clark used his to inspire others to do what's right.
"Rocky Clark had a dream," said Kenneth Jennings. "As long as there's a breath in my body, as long as you have a breath in your body, we refuse to let that dream die."
While others acknowledged his mother's courage and dedication, Annette Clark chose to celebrate her son and his legacy of strength and perseverance.
"I'm just so very proud of my son," she said. "The Lord had something for him to do."