Man Paralyzed in Prime of Life Never Stops Following His Passion

A Chicago-area man didn't let becoming paralyzed at the age of 21 stop him from coaching football and running for public office. Sponsored by Grape-Nuts.

About this sponsorship: In honor of the 60th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary’s Mount Everest, Patch and Grape-Nuts are teaming up to highlight those who inspire people around them to climb their own mountains.

In March 1998, at the age of 21, former Palatine High School football star Tom Kaider had a stroke in his spinal cord, causing him to become a T-4 paraplegic. Ever since, his entire lower stomach and legs have been paralyzed. But that hasn't stopped the Palatine resident from moving forward and doing the things in his life he is passionate about.

Football has truly been a grounding force for Kaider.

He has continued to coach youth and high school football teams. He became an entrepreneur, and was recently elected as highway commissioner in Palatine Township.

He barely credits himself for his ability to overcome his adversity, and instead points to the people closest to him, saying they were the ones who helped him to forge on more than 15 years ago, at a time that could have been his darkest hour. 

Q. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve taken on? 

A. I coached high school football at McHenry High School right up to the time before I became paralyzed. When I was still in rehab, my players came to see me at the Rehab Institute of Chicago at Navy Pier, and wanted me back as soon as possible. I wanted that, too.

Just a week after being released from rehab, in a wheelchair and just learning how to function, I was on the football field so I didn’t let the guys down—all the while trying to figure out how to live my new life in a wheelchair. The experience pushed me to my human limit, but I look back on it and I am grateful for it.

Q. What inspired you to take this challenge?

A. Not only the players, but my mom and dad and older brother George, all encouraged me to "stay in the game" [of life]. Friends, and even acquaintances helped get me to practices. I also was able to meet former Bears Coach Mike Ditka, who confided in me that he coached from a golf cart because of injuries he sustained while playing football. He told me that I could do it, that I could affect the lives of young people even from my wheelchair. He said just grab 'em and do it. All of these people together inspired me to continue on.

Q. Did you succeed?

A. I feel I have. Since that week straight out of rehab, there has never been a time I have not coached football. Whether it was coaching at the high school level at McHenry and Mundelein high schools, all the way down to 4 and 5 year olds, now I see that has been something so grounding in my life – that I love – that has kept me going.

I do believe coaching the very young had a profound effect on me. Watching a 5 year old run as fast as they can, to do their best, they are just so present in the situation. Their attitudes are to have fun and try as hard as they can, and I’ve taken that somewhat innocent attitude on in my life. 

In addition to continuing his love for coaching the young, Kaider is the owner of A Plus Property Management, and was elected Palatine Township Highway Commissioner on April 9.

"Have fun, work hard, be honest and do the best you can - those are lessons I live by," Kaider said.

This article is posted throughout the Chicago-area Patch network.

NANCY GRACE May 15, 2013 at 12:10 PM
Amazing story. ...football is dangerous with summer practices the heat can cause strokes, even tho this happened in March
Gina May 15, 2013 at 02:26 PM
What an awesome story about a great guy.
DARRELL LOWELL May 15, 2013 at 04:44 PM
As one of his relatives,Tommy is awesome and an inspiring member to be around! I'm glad to know him!
Vanessa Cabrera May 15, 2013 at 06:00 PM
An inspiration to so many. I'm so very luck to call him...friend!
J May 16, 2013 at 02:21 PM
FANTASTIC! What an Inspiration! If only the rest of the world would take the time to realize that people, with disabilities, have feelings and many are quite accomplished at something just like Tommy! Whether you are born with a disability or an accident/illiness later on results in a disability, they are all people just like you and me.


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