In the days and weeks following a tragic accident that changed his life, Brock Mealer didn't understand his purpose.
On Dec. 24, 2007, Mealer's father, David, was killed in a car accident outside of Pettisville. So was Hollis Richer, the girlfriend of Mealer's younger brother, Elliott, a high school senior who had just given a verbal commitment to join the University of Michigan football program.
Two of Brock Mealer's vertebrae were shattered, rendering him paralyzed from the waist down, seemingly incapable of walking. Yet as Mealer recovered, emotionally and physically, he had two choices. He could settle for the life that others expected of him, or he could aspire for something greater.
Less than five years later, that gave Mealer meaning to his life. Not just aspiring to walk -- and being able to do so with the help of crutches and leg braces, as he did Monday morning at Brandywine Country Club -- but being able to deliver that message.
Mealer admits he was the type to feign an illness in order to get out of a public speaking assignment in school. In the path of recovery, the soft-spoken Mealer has strengthened his voice in delivering his message to students.
"I talk about perseverance," Mealer said. "I talk about the things that come from hard work, about accepting challenges rather than avoiding them. For me, that's about faith. Having a tragic thing happen, but remaining faithful."
Mealer and his family -- including part of the family he's come to know in the Michigan football program -- hosted and took part in the David Mealer Memorial Classic on Monday. In its third year the golf tournament has raised more than $20,000 for various charities and medical causes, and its designated beneficiaries this year are the emergency room department of the Fulton County Health Center in Wauseon and Athletic Angels, a charitable foundation run by former Michigan strength and conditioning coach Mike Barwis; the charity's emphasis this year is to provide personal training for individuals with paralysis.
Among the 120 golfers were 26 players on the Michigan football team, including Elliott Mealer, who prepares for his senior season as an offensive lineman with the Wolverines. On Sept. 4, 2010, Elliott and Blake Mealer walked alongside Brock to the center of the field at the 50-yard-line at Michigan Stadium. Those first steps came less than three years after doctors had initially told Brock Mealer he would never walk again.
"Brock has become entirely an inspiration," Elliott Mealer said. "It's not only about seeing what he's done, but how he's trying to accomplish it. Everybody has a story. His is, if you face adversity, you can get through it. If you don't face adversity, you go for your dreams."
Those first steps weren't an isolated occurrence, and Brock Mealer has taken more. He admits the process of learning to walk again is mentally and physically difficult. He wants to walk without canes but has to learn how his arms can move in time with his legs. Still, he isn't thinking about the number of steps he can take each time he walks with canes. He considers the distance.
"My goal," Brock Mealer said, "is 10 yards at a time. I'm getting really close to that. I'd take 50 steps, but those weren't a good 50 steps. Now, it's about getting from point A to point B and standing on my own."
Wolverines longsnapper Curt Graman remembered watching Brock Mealer go through rehabilitation in Ann Arbor, then taking those steps to the center of the field at the Big House.
"We'd see the strength coaches telling him to work harder, to keep pushing," Graman said. "It was imperative for us to see that, to see Brock never give up. Seeing him go through this struggle, it's inspirational to us."
Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson draws inspiration from Brock Mealer's progress and his daily journey, not just in football but in his daily life.
"It inspires me to go 100 percent," Robinson said. "You don't know what you ever might have to deal with. And you realize someone else has to deal with much worse."
At the same time, Graman believes that Brock Mealer's journey has allowed Elliott Mealer to define his own identity.
"Elliott's gotten past the point where he's connected to the accident," Graman said. "People see him as the person he's become, as a football player, as a friend."
Nearby, Brock Mealer sat down at a table, talking with friends, smiling and speaking softly. Elliott Mealer nodded to the two tables filled with Michigan football players.
"They didn't have to do this, but that's how great they are," Elliott Mealer said of his teammates. "It's an emotional event for us. As we've done it over the years, there's a lot of happiness in it."
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.