Off the Court He's Still Making the Grade

Rodney Anderson, former CSUF basketball player turned graduate student, has learned to focus on the future in the hope of being able to walk again one day.

Everyday, Rodney Anderson's mother sits in her 2000 Dodge Caravan waiting for him to get out of school.

For six years, Martha Anderson has driven her son to Cal State Fullerton. Then she waits on campus in a van. Her son contacts her via cell phone when he needs her.

Assistant Professor of Human Services Susan Larsen lives only a mile from campus and has offered to let Martha relax at her home. Martha chooses to stay close to her son.

Close is an apt way to describe their relationship.

"He is my baby," Martha said. "He is my best friend."

It's still hard for Anderson to talk about the event that changed his life, the event that keeps his mom close - the day he was shot.

On March 2, 2000, as an 18-year-old basketball player riding a full athletic scholarship, Anderson was walking outside his parent's home in south Los Angeles when a stranger walked up from behind him and shot him four times in the back.

As Anderson fell, the gunman glanced at his face and realized Anderson wasn't his intended target. The shooter apologized.

"I had already been shot, the damage had already been done - but he did apologize," Anderson said.

He was in the hospital for five months and took the next year off from school. To become more independent, Anderson went to physical therapy three times a week to relearn basic skills. He worked on stretching, standing and flexing to prevent his muscles from stiffening up.

"That was the hardest year of my life," he said. "Going through rehab was harder than anything I ever had to do in athletics."

Before the shooting, Anderson said he was having trouble with his general education classes. Afterward, confined to a wheelchair, he began to develop skills he never had before. Now a graduate student in the counseling program, he has developed the ability to communicate well, a passion for other people and a commitment to making a difference in the world, said Jeffrey Kottler, chair of the Department of Counseling.

Many benefactors have helped Anderson on his road to recovery, including ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." The show demolished his house in Los Angeles and raised a new one its place.

The University Advancement Foundation at CSUF gave assistance by establishing the Rodney Anderson Assistance Fund.

When he returned to school in January 2001, CSUF President Milton Gordon reinstated the athletic grant that he had lost when he was unable to return to the basketball team, Anderson said.

"My wife and I went to the hospital after Rodney had been shot and injured. From that point on I think that his recovery has been nothing short of heroic," Gordon said.

Anderson is currently interning with the Student Diversity Program. He helps at-risk students set goals and assists them with time management. Anderson said he counsels students that may be on probation, have been disqualified or are incoming freshman new to the college environment.

"Rodney Anderson is such a role model," said Elisabeth Colcol, disabled student services coordinator. "He has a couple of freshmen that are coming in that are both paralyzed from accidents and just for them to meet someone like Rodney is a big deal."

It was probably bigger for him to meet the freshman students than it was for them to meet him, Anderson said.

He said he is constantly inspired by the strength of the human spirit.

"It is like I am renewing my strength when I meet people like that who are going on with their goals," he said.

Anderson successfully caught up with and passed the other five interns who were at the program five or six weeks earlier, said John Reid, director of the Student Diversity Program.

Of their six interns, he is the only one that became certified as a counselor.

"I think we haven't seen yet the success story that he is going to produce in his life," Gordon said.