Mason Speaks Out

For the first time since his life-threatening spinal cord injury in June, Wisconsin wide receiver Henry Mason spoke for the first time about the tramatic incident and the long road back. (Full audio included)

MADISON - It's not often a coach makes it his goal to talk to the media, especially after a tough loss. University of Wisconsin receivers coach Henry Mason didn't want to talk to the media about his tragic loss until he could walk into the interview room by himself without the assistance of a walker, wheelchair or power chair. All Mason wanted to do was to sit down and talk about life and football.

For such a humble man that went through the horrific events he did four months ago, talking to anybody is a huge bonus.

Even now, Mason, 51, doesn't enjoy reliving the night of June 24, what he calls a horror story, when a misstep at home landed him in intensive care and nearly left him paralyzed.

"Bottom line is, I had an accident in my home," Mason recalled. "I wouldn't call it freakish but I slipped. Last thing I remember, I knew I was falling, I hit a nightstand. Next thing I knew, I was in intensive care. It wasn't a pretty thing, but thank goodness I survived it."

Already suffering from a narrowing of the cavity around his spinal cord from a previous injury, Mason was rushed to a local area hospital and spent three or four days in intensive care.

"It wasn't so good the night it happened," Mason said. "Fortunately they got to me in a hurry and got things squared away."

For a goal-oriented coach, one of the many things he set out for himself was to be able to talk to the media without the assistance of a wheelchair.

"I didn't want to power a wheelchair in here," said Mason, who sat in a chair behind a table for the duration of the interview. "I wanted to be able walk in here. I was able to do that. I still have a long way to go but so far, it's going well."

Facing the media has been one in a long line of goals for Mason. After originally going to the physical therapist seven days a week, Mason now three to four days a week with a physical therapist in addition to a rehab program he follows daily at home that takes about five or six hours to complete. He still uses a wheelchair to get around and a walker during rehabilitation, but it's better than some of the other people surrounding him.

"(The injury) makes you take the blinders off a little bit and look around and see what else is happening in the world," Mason said. "You get caught up when you're a football coach. Although I've had a bad injury, I'm in a rehab program with people who have not been as fortunate as me. I still have my mind and I can think. I just try to deal with the hand I have been given."

Talking openly with reports and cracking jokes here and there, Mason admits the rehabilitation process has not been easy, but continues to be encouraged when he looks back and looks at the progress he's made (within the last few weeks, Mason has been able to walk small distances on his own).

"In the world of spinal cord injuries, I would say I'm a little bit ahead of schedule right now," he said. "I've been able to have some pretty good gains from where I've started. Immediately after the injury, I was as close to being paralyzed as you could be. I didn't have much movement."

Still, the whole situation is a bit of cruel irony, as the 26-year veteran is now the one being coached.

"I really don't like people telling me what to do," he said. "That's been a hard deal for me. I always tell my players, 'If you've got a problem, go ahead and bring it in here, but just understand, I'm going to 51 percent it (being the majority).'"

Despite being able to teach and coach to a limited degree, Mason, without hesitation, stepped away from the football team entirely, not wanting to let his off the field issue become a distraction from the goals of the team.

"I've really tried to stay away for several reasons," Mason said. "I didn't want to be a distraction from what they are trying to accomplish. I really tried to step back, but had a lot of contact with Bret and Barry. As far as coaching or being apart of that, I've tried to stay away."

Another reason Mason stepped back was that he didn't want UW's interim wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander to feel like he was looking over his shoulder.

"The one thing that I wanted him to understand was that I wasn't going to be around, that these (receivers) are your guys," Mason said. "(I told him) he's hear for a reason because he's a good coach. He's done a really nice job developing. He's been dealt a tough hand."

Mason watches home games from his office at Camp Randall Stadium. Just like any normal fan, he watches all the road games at home on television, commenting on how the promotional things the broadcasts do get him fired up.

"I get a feel of what she knows about the game," said Mason, who watches every game now with his wife, Debbie. "It's a little depressing, but it's fun. The one good thing about this whole thing is we get the chance to spend a lot of time together. It's fun to hear her comments and that's she's as much of a fan as anybody."

Mason said he couldn't have made it this far without the support of his wife, who has taken a leave of absence from her teaching job to care for him.

"She's been unbelievable," he said. "She's been my arms and legs. She's had to take care of me. She's been right there. When something like this happens, her life stops, too, it changes direction."

Although he hopes to return to his duties of assistant recruiting coordinator and some coaching in early February to get ready for next year's spring practice, Mason is keeping his future in the short terms, setting goals for himself each and every morning.

"My goal right now is to be able to get out of bed tomorrow and go in there and have the therapist beat on me for five hours and be able to survive it," Mason said. "That is how I've been approaching it. I'm just hoping at the end of the road I'll be back out there."

Wisconsin coach Henry Mason (22:12) -

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