The former Ohio State football player, paralyzed when he hit the turf after an attempt to catch a pass during spring practice in 2006, also remembers what it was like for his family as it had to make the two-hour trip back and forth to Columbus to see Gentry in the hospital from its home in Sandusky, Ohio, along the shores of Lake Erie.
But even more than that, he remembers the acts of kindness from Ohio State fans who heard about his injury and took action, sending his family gas cards and helping out any way they could to make the Gentrys comfortable while dealing with the nightmarish scenario.
Now nine years after an awkward hit sent the walk-on wideout to the turf, Gentry is doing what he can to provide the same support for fellow sufferers of spinal-cord injuries. In February, Gentry and his wife, Megan, launched the New Perspective Foundation, a nonprofit organization with the focus to help individuals and their families dealing with such sudden injuries.
“The support that I received from Ohio State fans after my injury is really what the premise of the foundation came from,” he told BSB. “A handful of people sent my parents gas cards because they heard about them driving back and forth from Sandusky to Columbus, so that’s just one of the things that always stuck with me.
“It’s amazing how people think of these things that honestly, until you’re in the situation, you really aren’t aware of. Different expenses add up and it’s one of those things that I just felt like people already are concerned about enough when people are in the hospital with a life-changing situation. They really shouldn’t have to worry about, how are we going to afford to travel to go see them?”
Right now, the foundation will focus on assisting those suffering from spinal-cord injuries in Florida and Ohio. The immediate goal is to provide that financial support for relatives to be nearby, including airfare, gasoline, lodging and other incidental expenses that come up.
The two hope the foundation continues to grow beyond that, however.
“We would honestly like to serve all 50 states as well as expand to other disabilities and medical issues no matter what it is because if something comes up and someone is hospitalized in an instant, you want to be able to be by their side,” he said. “In all honesty, in talking with Megan, we want to become the Ronald McDonald House of spinal-cord injuries initially but all disabilities and medical issues in general.
“It’s so important for us to give back and help others like others helped me when I needed it. I just know how valuable having my family and friends by my side was in my recovery process. I’m sure other people will feel the same way.”
Gentry saw his life change during that spring scrimmage in 2006, but he has since come to terms with what his injury has meant. He admits he wouldn’t wish the injury on anyone, but his philosophy of trying to make the best of it is unwavering.
“It’s one of those things where you can waste your time being upset and angry about what happens to you, or you can ignore the bad stuff and make the best out of the situation,” he said. “My life is very fulfilling. I’m extremely grateful and thankful for things that have come because of my injury, and I don’t think there’s any point in wasting time. Nobody wants to sit here and listen to you complain anyway.”
He met Megan in a linguistics class shortly before he graduated in 2009, and the two were married in October 2013. They moved to the Tampa/St. Petersburg area in 2011 – the warm weather has helped Gentry immensely – and he recently finished his master’s in rehabilitation counseling.
He says his physical condition has remained mostly unchanged over the past few years, but he has seen improvements since he first was paralyzed. Gentry couldn’t move anything from the neck down immediately following the injury but has since regained the use of his shoulder muscles and biceps.
“It’s really been a blessing to even be able to get that back,” he said. “I knew what it was like to be paralyzed from the shoulders down and not be able to move anything or feel anything. I’m still trying to do things to keep my upper body going and keep my shoulders strong and my biceps strong, and hopefully something clicks. You never know. You just have to have faith.”
Along the way, he hasn’t let the physical limitations stop him. The first major fundraiser for the New Perspective Foundation included a painting done by Gentry depicting the five pairs of gold pants he earned during his time at Ohio State from 2004-08.
The family had the pants photographed and then Gentry undertook the process of painting the picture, which includes the heading “How firm thy friendship…” above the five pairs of pants, each of which are inscribed with the game scores.
Gentry has always enjoyed painting – he is still working on a panorama of a pre-renovation Ohio Stadium he started in high school – and has continued to pursue the passion even after his injury. He uses a brace to help himself with each work, and anyone who donates more than $150 at his foundation’s website, NewPerspectiveFoundation.org, will receive the limited edition gold pants print while supplies last.
So far, Gentry has sold about 125 of the 200 prints to help the foundation get off the ground.
“It’s amazing that people are interested in them,” he said. “I’m very humbled that people find them appealing and want to add them to their Buckeye rooms. It’s just uplifting to hear people’s stories of how they heard about us and how they wanted this to be a part of their collection. It’s been very humbling and I’m very thankful for the support that we have received.”
Given its relative newness, the foundation is still looking for its first applicants, and Gentry is itching to start making an impact.
In the meantime, he’s been buoyed by the support from Buckeye Nation as he tries to pay it forward.
“As any Ohio State fan knows, it’s definitely a family,” he said. “We love our fans, and they support us and it’s definitely a brotherhood. I think the phrase once a Buckeye, always a Buckeye has held true.”