Rocky Clark tributes pouring in

January 6, 2012 5:01:26 PM PST
A young man paralyzed during high school football practice back in 1999 is remembering Rocky Clark.

Clark died Thursday, 11 years after he was paralyzed by a football injury. Friday, Rob Komosa remembers Clark and the incidents that brought them together.

Few would have blamed Clark if he had wanted nothing to do with football after his injury. But, Friday, his friend Rob Komosa said Rocky stayed connected to the sport he loved, becoming a volunteer coach and helping start an organization to help other injured athletes.

"I got to see who he really was, and his attitude -- very uplifting, such a nice guy," said Komosa.

Like Rocky Clark, Rob Komosa was paralyzed on the football field in high school. The two struck a more than decade-long friendship, forged by their shared struggles.

"What I learned from him is, no matter how bad you think you have it, it can always be worse, and you should be thankful for what you have," said Komosa.

We first met Rocky in the fall of 2000, one month after he became paralyzed from the neck down. Through the years, his spirits never dimmed.

"I'm going to be back to myself in a little while," Clark said in 2001. "I ain't gonna need this wheelchair for long."

Though he was sidelined by injury, Rocky's heart never left the football field.

He became close with several Chicago Bears players, and the team helped raise money for his care.

"He truly was a rock of strength," said John Bostrom, Chicago Bears community relations VP. "And of course you can't forget about that smile. Rocky had quite a smile that would warm anyone's heart, and I know it did mine."

Just last month, the Bears hosted the first fundraiser for the Gridiron Alliance, a group founded by Rocky, Komosa and others to help injured high school athletes.

"He wanted to be a positive instrument in bringing awareness to paralyzed, not just athletes, but kids," Komosa said.

In the past year, Rocky's medical bills continued to mount after coverage from a $5 million school insurance policy ran out.

Two weeks ago, the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame surprised Rocky with a $25,000.

"His smile lit up the room. It was unbelievable. I don't know if he made us feel better, or we made him feel better," said Charlie Carey, Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame president.

There is a bill currently in the Illinois General Assembly that would prevent high school athletes who have suffered catastrophic injuries from maxing out their health benefits.

Friday, a group of pastors called for the passage of that legislation, which some are now calling the Rocky Clark Bill.

Funeral arrangements are still pending, but tributes Rocky already are pouring in. - website set up by Rocky Clark's family