Paralyzed Rugby Player Bonds With Dolphins TE

Shuler Jr. forms friendship with Rugby player who was paralyzed in South Florida

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    NEWSLETTERS

    It's a different kind of football, but a rubgy pro and a Miami Dolphins player have made fast friends.

    Wikus Botha's life changed on his last trip to South Florida, when the South African rugby player was paralyzed in a near-deadly accident.

    But just months after the incident, Botha's spirits are being lifted by a new friend and fellow athlete, Miami Dolphins tight end Mickey Shuler Jr.

    On March 20, 2011, 19-year-old Botha, now 20, was struck by a car as he was walking on Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale and lost all movement from his neck down. After being taken to Broward General Medical Center, he was told his chances of playing his favorite sport again -- or even walking -- were slim to none.

    Botha had been a member of the Tuks University under 21 rugby team and was on his way to fulfilling his lifelong dream of playing professional rugby by joining the farm team for the Blue Bulls, one of 15 teams in the "Super Rugby" league that includes Australia and New Zealand.

    Kevin Brown, a pre-admission nurse at North Broward Medical Center, believed Botha could use a friend, and introduced him to Shuler Jr. and his father, Mickey Shuler Sr., who also played in the NFL.

    All three men shared a passion for sports, and the Shuler's were just the right remedy for Botha's spirits.

    "When I first met him, he touched my heart," Shuler Jr. said. "He is close to my age and I had to put myself in his shoes. I couldn't imagine going through an accident like this alone. I want to see him get better."

    Botha is indeed getting better. He can now wheel himself around the hallways of the hospital, feed himself, and even stand up, with the help of his physical therapists.

    "It feels great, really," Botha said to NBC Miami, about being able to stand on his own two feet, saying it gives him hope that he'll be able to walk out of the hospital soon.

    "I want to walk back, really, I want to walk all the way back to South Africa!", Botha said, laughing.

    Shuler Jr. has visited Botha over 20 times, introducing him to his family, fiance, and teammates. He has also showered Botha with autographed Dolphins and Pennsylvania State University memorabilia. The cork board in Botha's room is now redecorated with strength quotes and inspiring pictures, thanks to Shuler Jr.

    "I hope I am able to take him to a Penn State or Dolphins game one of these days because he has become a lifelong friend," said Shuler Jr.

    Botha is thankful to have met such a great friend in the States.

    "Mickey gave me Drew Brees' book 'Coming Back Stronger: Unleashing the Hidden Power of Adversity'," said Botha. "He is not only supportive, but compassionate. We are able to sit and talk sports, which helps me get my mind off of my circumstance."

    Shuler Jr. and his family aren't the only ones pushing Botha to get better. South Florida's South African community has also visited Botha and posted pictures in his room to remind him he is being supported.

    Botha's mother, Elsa Botha, has been taking care of him every day for two months. Since the accident a couple of months ago, doctors are now more optimistic that Botha will walk again. For his part, Botha has adjusted his goal, from playing pro ball to becoming a rugby coach.

    "You must be very grateful for what you have," Botha said, acknowledging his perspective on life has changed drastically since his injury, and he has advice for anyone who suffers a spinal cord injury.

    "I would say just never give up, you must push forward," Botha says.