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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.