By Joel Delgado ’12 MS ’17
At the beginning of 2011, Woody Beckham was your typical college student. He was an engineering major at Florida Atlantic, had a part time job and was a member of the school’s rugby club.
“That was pretty much my life,” Beckham says. “I was trying to get through college and graduate just like everybody else.”
But during a rugby match Jan. 29, 2011, Beckham tackled an opponent and suffered a spinal cord injury that left him a quadriplegic and in a wheelchair.
It was a moment that changed the trajectory of his life and took him in a direction he never could have imagined.
After three months in the hospital and moving back home, Beckham’s family and friends approached him about the possibility of doing something to help people who have suffered similar injuries.
“My dad asked me what we could do to help and I said that new equipment for Jackson Memorial Hospital could go a long way,” Beckham recalls. “And that’s how the Woody Foundation was born.”
The foundation, formed just months after Beckham’s injury, is a non-profit organization that aims to raise awareness and funds for people with paralysis and other disabilities.
In July 2011, the Woody Foundation hosted its first fundraising event – a lionfish and spearfishing tournament in the Bahamas that raised around $20,000 for new equipment and sponsorship of the community reintegration program at Jackson Memorial Hospital.
Since then, the Lionfish Bash has become one of the foundation’s four annual events – which also include a golf tournament, lobster feast and a benefit concert called “Woodystock” – that benefit various organizations, hospitals and efforts that support individuals who are paralyzed. This year’s Lionfish Bash will take place July 25 at the Biscayne Bay Yacht Club.
Beckham, who started taking classes at FIU during the Fall 2012 semester and is a client of the Disability Resource Center, also came up with a way to give others with disabilities tools to live an independent life.
IMPROVING QUALITY OF LIFE
After the injury, normal everyday tasks like eating or using a cell phone became difficult due to limited hand functioning. But Beckham found a number of different devices that have helped him accomplish these tasks and many others on a day-to-day basis and created the “Woody Pack” as a result.
Woody Packs are backpacks filled with a collection of different tools and assistive devices, including specialized cups, forks, phone cases and retractable ID cases, designed to help people with disabilities and limited hand functioning perform daily tasks on their own.
Beckham frequently delivers Woody Packs to individuals who need them all over Miami-Dade County and the packs have become an integral part of the his goal of helping others with similar disabilities live as independently and efficiently as possible.
“Just because you have a disability it shouldn’t restrict what your potential is. You can become a lot more independent, live life to the fullest and make a positive impact on the world around you,” Beckham says. “That’s how I try to live my life. That’s what motivates me.”
While the Woody Pack has become the biggest quality of life project the Woody Foundation has engaged in, Beckham has sought other ways to help those with paralysis as well.
In a partnership with WishBook at the Miami Herald, last Christmas, Beckham and the foundation purchased and delivered a laptop-tablet hybrid to a 14-year-old boy named Pedrito, who has cerebral palsy. Beckham visits Pedrito every two weeks, training him in how to use it; the pair have become good friends.
“Giving him this computer has opened up his world,” Beckham says. “Sometimes you feel confined to a wheelchair and isolated, so I think giving him access to the internet and YouTube has changed his life and given him a opportunity to do things that normal people do on an everyday basis.
“Whether it’s someone with cerebral palsy, a brain injury or a spinal cord injury, the challenges we face are all very similar,” he says. “I enjoy learning from them and sharing what I’ve learned with them as well.”
Beckham, a finance major in the College of Business, is getting ready to graduate with a business degree at the end of the Fall 2015 semester and hopes to use the knowledge and skills learned in the classroom and apply them to the operation of his foundation.
He also hopes to patent products that will help individuals with disabilities and expand distribution of Woody Packs to people around the world. Recently, after a story on Beckham and the Woody Foundation was featured on a local television station and shared on social media, a man from India called to request one.
“We had about 50 requests in three weeks after that news piece went out and we had to figure out how to ship one to India. We didn’t go viral, but we got a cold or something,” Beckham says with a laugh. “I hope we do become a global resource for assistive devices to give to people with limited hand functionality and disabilities.”
At the heart of it all, however, Beckham wants to use his story and his foundation to inspire others to chase their own dreams and ambitions – regardless of their circumstances.
“I think people need to follow their heart a little more and that’s what I’ve been trying to do since I’ve been paralyzed,” Beckham says.
For more information about the Woody Foundation, visit their website.