(Emeka Nnaka was just featured on the Ellen DeGeneres Show. His story of courage begins Chapter 3 of Hope Rising: How the Science of HOPE Can Change Your Life by Casey Gwinn, J.D. & Chan Hellman, P.HD.
Emeka Nnaka watched the ball fly as the kick-off began the game. Emeka zeroed in on the returner as he caught the ball. The returner shed the first tackle, then ran through a block. He headed toward Emeka, coming full speed. Emeka wrapped him up. The sound of the collision reverberated throughout the entire stadium. Emeka made the tackle as he felt a stinging sensation all over his body and then fell to the ground. He did not feel his body hit the ground. It was the last time the 6-foot 4-inch 240-pound defensive end would ever play football. In June of 2019, at the age of 19, the Nigerian immigrant’s career playing semi-pro football for the Oklahoma Thunder was over.
Emeka did not know why his body did not respond when he tried to get up. The entire stadium was silent. He was on the field for an hour and eighteen minutes before the ambulance arrived. He felt distant from the voices around him and people working on his body.As they rolled him off the field, he wanted to give a “thumbs up” as he had seen so many times from injured football players on television but he could not move his arms. Emeka’s injury would leave him paralyzed for life. After weeks in the hospital, he began the long road through physical therapy and his argument with God – “Why me?”
I (Chan) met Emeka after he became a student at OU. He inspired me and quickly became one of my hope heroes. It was an honor to ask him to share his views about hope. He has faced one of the greatest blows imaginable in his life. As he looks back, Emeka says his biggest trial was his greatest blessing. Through his faith in God, he found the motivation to begin setting new goals and finding new pathways to his goals. Today, Emeka is a motivational speaker, life coach, and hope advocate. He has refused to let his injury define him. He began to see himself as a piece of coal that survived great amounts of pressure to become a diamond. Today, he says it clearly, “I am that diamond.”
Today, Emeka is a graduate student studying human relations at the University of Oklahoma. What is his personal philosophy? “Hope is not a step in life, it is a stance.” In one instant, his life changed forever when he suffered a spinal cord (neck) injury resulting in paralysis and a life restricted to a motorized wheel chair. However, Emeka decided to focus on gratitude that he was still alive. His life could have been destroyed. Instead, he is a beacon of hope to those around him. Emeka is emerging as a world class motivational speaker who shares his message of hope with others. His personal mission is to inspire, empower, and unite others in drawing the masterpieces of their lives regardless of their circumstances. He regularly speaks to middle and high school students, churches, community events, and organizations spreading the message of goals, pathways, and agency. His message is how hope can be learned and that we are all worthy of rising hope in our lives. Meet Emeka at www.emekannaka.com.
Emeka’s journey shows us how hope has mattered in the life of a paralyzed, young, ambitious football player. The hope Emeka found has consistently been identified by researchers as the key determinant in helping children, adults, and families not only endure and survive, but flourish out of the most difficult circumstances. Emeka needs it. We all need it. This chapter will you provide with the scientific legitimacy that hope enjoys in the emerging psychological literature. Emeka’s story is not an anomaly.
The research shows that people with high hope do better in life than those with low hope. High hope helps us overcome trauma better than low hope. High hope helps people deal with losing their ability to walk better than low hope. High hope helps people do better in surviving cancer than low hope. High hope helps people do better in school than low hope. High hope helps people make better employees than low hope. High hope helps people navigate their way through natural disasters better than low hope. Higher hope is better than lower hope.