NASHUA, N.H. (CBS) — Dozens of Nashua North football players made their way up a driveway in a dark, drizzle after practice Tuesday, to welcome a friend back home.
They tossed off their shoes inside the door and packed into the living room, where a smiling Cooper Doucette greeted them from his wheelchair.
“What’s up dude?” he asked several — team captain Cameron Duval among them.
“We’ve just wanted him to know that we’ve been thinking about him daily,” says Duval. “He needs to know we’re still there for him and still playing for him.”
It was the very first day of tackling drills back in August, when Cooper went to take down a teammate, and his necked snapped back. The 15-year-old sophomore broke his C-5 vertebrae and damaged his spinal cord. His father vividly remembers the terror of that phone call.
“When I think about it I still get emotional,” he says, unsuccessfully fighting back tears. “We all knew that he might never walk again.”
A trip to Children’s Hospital in Boston turned into two-and-a-half months of rehab at the world-renowned Shepherd Center in Atlanta. The paralyzed teen can move his arms — but not his hands or fingers.
His Nashua living room is now adorned with photos of the pro football players who visited him down south, and he’s got a dozen or so autographed footballs from NFL, college, and other high school teams. There’s even a signed, get-well photo from Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia.
But the key to turning depression into hope, he says, came from being around others with injuries like his.
“I saw how happy those people were — even though they’re in a wheelchair,” says Cooper. “That’s really what made it change for me. You can’t be negative. Nothing will work out that way.”
In the three weeks before his return home, local builder P.M. Mackay converted the family dining room into Cooper’s new bedroom, and made the entire first floor wheelchair-friendly. Nashua firefighters both donated and installed the wheelchair ramp out front. Bill Doucette’s employer not only gave him time off from work, but raised money and paid for his frequent flights back and forth from Atlanta.
“We have so many people we need to thank,” says Bill Doucette, “I don’t even know where to start.”
In addition to his family and friends, one person who has stood tall during Cooper’s ordeal, is Nashua North football coach Jason Robie. He wrote emails, made phone calls, and sent the teen game videos to keep him in the loop. But the inspiration goes both ways.
“Every time we think we can’t do another sprint or run an extra play, we think of him.” says Robie. “We think of all the hurdles he’ll have to get through and how important it’ll be for him to persevere.”
“We tell him everyday that even though he has a physical disability in life, his mind can still take him anywhere,” says his step-mother Sharon Turmel.
But Cooper’s goal is to climb out of his chair.
“That’s what I think about every day,” says Cooper. “Walking again. That just keeps me going.”
This Saturday, though, he’s going to roll onto the sidelines in Derry, when his Nashua North teammates play Pinkerton for the division one state championship.
Friends and family have set up a fundraising website to help Cooper and the Doucette family. You can find out how you can help at supacoop.org.