Spring's Bryce Cruz: 'I'm going to walk again'

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Paralyzed from the waist down after an unusual illness in 2014, and told he will never walk again, 17-year-old Bryce Cruz from Spring has other plans.

"I know one day I'm going to walk again," Bryce Cruz said in an interview with FOX 26 Sports. "So I just keep my head high, and have faith in God."

The former football player at Dekaney High School has recently experienced some feeling in his legs.

Long before that he did not buy the doctor's diagnosis that he will always be wheelchair-bound.

"Yeah, I'm not going to believe that, because there's no one higher than God," said Bryce Cruz.

It is with that kind of optimism that led Bryce to channel his energy to a sport that was previously not on his radar.

Instead of going to college on a football scholarship, he signed a National Letter of Intent last month to play wheelchair basketball for the University of Texas at Arlington.

UTA is one of nine schools that offer a men's wheelchair basketball program that is eligible to compete at the intercollegiate level sanctioned by the National Wheelchair Basketball Association.

"It was a good day in my life," Bryce Cruz said. "It was exciting, a proud moment. Most definitely, I'll never forget that day."

Neither will his mother.

"(It was) Amazing," said Janine Cruz. "I feel like all the work that he's put through, and the things that I've taught him to continue to keep striving to be the best that he can be, was just a moment that I am going to remember for the rest of my life."

Bryce's wheelchair basketball coach was equally thrilled.

"I was ecstatic," said Trice Ham. "It was pure joy. We had plans on Bryce playing college wheelchair basketball from the day that he rolled into the gym, but I did not think it would happen immediately following his senior year.

"To hear that he had been offered as a senior, just a year and a half into the sport, was one of the most joyful moments I've had as a coach. It was pure elation."

Ham has coached in the Hotwheels wheelchair basketball program for seven years.

"Even being in the world of wheelchair basketball, Bryce's story is truly special," said Ham. "It's a testament to what this sport can do to change people's lives, and it's a testament to what TIRR Memorial Hermann does to change people's lives by sponsoring this program."

In November of 2014 Bryce found that he had no feeling in his legs.

After calling his mother for help, she checked to see if he had any feeling in his feet by sticking him with pins.

When that proved unsuccessful, Bryce was rushed by ambulance to Texas Children's Hospital.

Within a few hours they told us 'we have to open up your son's back," said Janine Cruz. "We found a mass.' They didn't know if it was a blood clot or if it was fluid.

"They told us that he had a staph infection that grew into an abscess, and they had to drain it.

"Before he went into surgery I asked him 'how are you feeling?' He said 'God got me.' So I knew right then that everything was going to be okay."

However, Bryce and his family were faced with the biggest challenge of their lives.

"When he came out of surgery the doctor told us that he was what is called a T6 paraplegic from the waist down, and that there wasn't a possibility that he can walk again," Janine Cruz said.

Bryce was initially devastated, but not for long.

It only took a few days before he quickly decided he was going to find a way to make the best of his situation.

"I was angry at first," Bryce Cruz said. "I thought 'why me? Why the situation? Why did this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this?' at first, but things change."

And things changed quickly for Bryce.

"I don't think I've ever seen him break down or get frustrated, and that inspired me to keep on pushing and making sure that he's good," said Janine Cruz, a single parent, who works two jobs to keep her family going financially.

"I had my (emotional) moments, but seeing him keep on pushing and seeing him not give up and seeing him being 15 years old and going through this, made me realize that any small thing that I would complain about or go through, nothing can overcome what he's been through."

In fact that is how Bryce's entire family felt.

"It was difficult at first," said David Cruz, Bryce's 14-year-old brother. "Every day that I see him, he's never down. He's always happy. He lifts me up, keeps me motivated and helps me to keep going."

And David plans to make Bryce's dreams come true through him.

"Since my brother, he's in a wheelchair, and he wanted to go to the NFL," David Cruz said. "So I'm going to go to the NFL for him.

"Since he can't do it, I'm going to do it for him."

TIRR Memorial Hermann has sponsored the Hotwheels Wheelchair Basketball Program since the late 90's, with seven kids earning college scholarships. The Hotwheels have won two national championships, with a pair of runner-ups.

Bryce was also recruited by the best.

UTA has won eight men's National Wheelchair Basketball Championships.

The Mavericks won their eighth title on Saturday.