The Atlanta Falcons Rookie Club, presented by UnitedHealthcare, spent its Veterans Day visiting patients at the Shepherd Center including veterans from the SHARE Military Initiative.
The Atlanta Falcons Rookie Club visited the Shepherd Center, Atlanta's spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation hospital, on Veteran's Day, bringing with them plenty of smiles and a positive attitude to the surprised patients, as well as to the veterans in the SHARE Military Initiative program.
While each of the players in attendance were touched by the visit and the patients they met, the afternoon provided two rookies a perspective they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
Falcons' rookie linebacker Prince Shembo has made a name for himself this year, moving into the starting linebacker position only four and a half weeks into the season. Instead of the intense personality of a professional linebacker, however, the 6-foot-2 rookie bared his gentle side Tuesday, interacting with patients on a personal level and sending words of encouragement, all of which he learned from his mother, Gina Shembo.
Gina, who works in the spinal department at Carolinas Medical Center, as well as a retirement home, has worked in spinal cord treatment since Shembo was a child. Growing up, she told her son that it helps patients when you're able to make them smile and laugh. It helps drive them to overcome whatever obstacle they are facing.
And, with his fellow teammates by his side, he did just that.
"Seeing all of this (and) seeing what my mom does, it made me love her more," Shembo said. "I always love her, but seeing that she cares for other people."
While the other players moved between patients after a few short minutes in an attempt to see each one, rookie running back Devonta Freeman took his time. At one point, Freeman stood talking with one patient for a while about his accident, a broken neck suffered from diving into the ocean.
It reminded Freeman of his sophomore year of college, when he fractured his L4 and L5 in his back. He couldn't walk for several weeks, and eventually had to use a back brace for three months. The treatment and rehab took longer than Freeman thought, but over time, he got his strength back to where it used to be.
Because Freeman has been where the patients are now, he talked to each one as long as he could, listening to their stories. He gave words of motivation and shared his own journey of overcoming injury in hopes of impacting them while they did just that and more to him in a short amount of time.
"(Today will) have an impact on me the rest of my life," Freeman said about the visit. "Live every moment, every day. Respect others, no matter what circumstances they're in. Always go hard. Maximize every opportunity because you never know."