By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – Rob Walker sat on recent afternoon watching the inner Boston Harbor and quietly talked about his family’s efforts to get their lives back to normal.
In a sense, things were normal. Rob, his wife Jean, and their son Connor, a former football star for Marlborough High School (MHS), were, moments later, together. Later that night, Jean and Connor’s brother Robbie were at a MHS game – the kind the family has seen countless of before during Connor’s high school career before he continued on to play for St. Anselm’s College in Goffstown, N.H.
But in a similar sense, hardly anything was normal. The family was all together – at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital – before Jean and Robbie attended the football game, which was effectively dedicated to Connor. All this comes as the result of an on field spinal cord injury Sept. 29 that left Connor paralyzed but simultaneously showed the family the true supportive force of the Marlborough community in particular.
“We’re overwhelmed and blessed to have a good support system that has come together in a time of crisis and has reached out to my son,” Rob said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
After helping captain his Panther football team through a wildly successful 2016 season, Walker was playing on the defensive line in the second game of his sophomore year at St. Anselm College when he suffered his injury.
As his father described the play, Connor was double teamed at the line of scrimmage and immediately collided head-to-head with an opponent. The hit compressed his spine, rupturing a disk in his back that pressed sharply on his spinal cord.
“He was paralyzed right there on the field,” Rob recalled. “He went straight down.”
Taken to Yale University Hospital in New Haven, Conn. Connor spent three days in an ICU before eventually moving to Spaulding. There, through agonizing and ongoing physical therapy, he had regained feeling and some movement in his upper body but remained paralyzed from the waist down as of Oct. 19.
Getting this far though, Rob believes of his son, has been at least partially thanks to that very support he and the rest of his family immediately saw.
“It has motivated [Connor] and kept him busy,” Rob said. “He has not had time to stop and dwell on what happened. He just wants to learn to walk again.”
Friends from Connor’s high school days have cycled through his room at Spaulding, now leaving its walls spackled with their cards and other gifts.
The recent Panther homecoming game against North Middlesex, the one his mother and brother attended, also came dotted with reminders of Connor.
Parents walked through the stands throughout the game selling tickets for a 50/50 raffle raising money for the Walker family. PA announcements frequently reminded fans of Connor and Athletic Director Jeff Rudzinski presented Jean Walker with a banner signed by students throughout the homecoming week encouraging Connor. And just before the opening kickoff, even Coach Sean Mahoney momentarily strayed from his team to remind Jean, on behalf of his team that, “If you ever need anything, just call.”
Then there is the Marlborough Police Department, where Robbie works as a dispatcher. Recently, the department pooled funds gathered after its recent road race to help the Walker family.
“Again, it shows the community coming together, in that case from the police department,” Rob said. “It also helped [Robbie] because he’s coping with it. It made him feel really good that the people he works with did that.”
Connor collapsed on the football field roughly a month ago. Since then, it’s been a month of hospitals and controlled chaos for his family. That has led to moments like the one for Rob looking out at the harbor where family members confront what happened and look towards a future after Connor leaves Spaulding.
As Connor wakes each day and begins what he described to his dad as a “marathon” of physical therapy to make that future happen, his community and family are supporting him. In turn, that support has enabled him to support his family.
“He has motivated us as parents,” Rob said. “We’re so impressed by his positive attitude that we’re going out and trying to get back to as normal a life as we can.”
To donate to a gofundme campaign set up for the Walker family, click the link below.