EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- After eight years of recovery, Justin Greenwood is back in Eau Claire, talking about the importance of not ignoring sports injuries.
The former University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire player said he ignored a concussion and suited up to play University of Wisconsin-River Falls in 2003.
But it was a near-fatal blow to the head that took him off the field and sent him to the hospital.
WEAU 13 News caught up with Greenwood before he shared his story to local athletic trainers and athletes at the Oakleaf Surgical Hospital in Eau Claire on Monday night.
On September 27, 2003 during a game against River Falls, Justin Greenwood’s life changed forever.
He said he ignored a concussion because he didn’t want to miss out on any games.
But all it took was one hit.
“It’s like the thing that broke the camel’s back. I slowly started to lose consciousness. Went on a ride where you can't even imagine your worst nightmare,” Greenwood said.
Blood vessels in his brain ruptured, nearly killing him on the football field.
After brain surgery and then three weeks in a coma, Greenwood said he awoke to find all his memories and skills erased.
“I had to start life over, I was wearing diapers I couldn't eat and swallow. I had to learn everything like a baby; I was a 22-year-old baby,” Greenwood said.
After years of recovery, Greenwood has been able to turn the horrific experience into a positive.
“I'm telling my story to prevent this from happening to other young athletes. It’s a good thing in disguise,” Greenwood said
Greenwood has been working as a spokesman for Play Smart Wisconsin, a campaign which raises awareness about concussions.
Athletes at Greenwood’s talk said his story is a reminder to take injuries seriously.
“Not the tough guy spirit anymore. That little hit could turn into more than what you think could happen,” said three-sport Regis High School athlete Nolan Rodriguez.
Greenwood’s mother Glenda Greenwood has been with him every step of his recovery and often speaks to groups with him.
“There’s always good that comes from bad so that’s what we’ve looked for. The good is to prevent this thing from happening to others,” said Glenda Greenwood.
“Football is only a short period of time but a brain injury can affect you for the rest of your life,” Greenwood said.
Greenwood said he’s been bale to keep an optimistic outlook on his long recovery with the support of his mother and the community.