Career-ending injury shattered player’s dreams, but God brought hope

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By Michael Ashcraft —

The dream from age 7 was coming true. Inky Johnson was in his junior year in college with all the paperwork signed for the NFL draft. He was among the top 30 and was guaranteed to make millions doing what he loved.

All he had to do was play 10 more games and his future would be set, but when he went to make a regular tackle against an Air Force player in 2006 — a tackle “I could make with my eyes closed” — the cornerback ruptured his subclavian artery and could not get up.

“I never thought about a career-ending injury,” Inky says in an Above Inspiration video. “I woke up from that surgery and the thing I placed my identity in was now gone.”

His right arm was paralyzed. Every day he lives with pain. But he rose above the crushed spirit and now delivers motivational speeches, encouraging people to serve Jesus and trust Him with their destiny.

Inquoris Johnson was raised in a 14-member household crammed in a two-bedroom home on Atlanta’s poor and violent side. His mom pulled double shifts to put food on the table, and Inky says he wanted to pull the whole family out of poverty.

Every day was dedicated to training to fulfill the dream. He drilled, worked out and practiced. His family attended church, and he asked God to bless his dream.

When he joined the Volunteers at the University of Tennessee, he became their starting cornerback and was on the trajectory to success; the commitment and effort was paying off.

Then he woke up on the fateful day and followed his usual routine: run two miles to the fire station and two miles back to warm up. Throw the football at the ceiling to practice catches at all angles by surprise. Visualize himself performing to perfection.

“Two minutes left in the game, and I go to make a tackle – that I can make with my eyes closed And I hit this guy and as soon as I hit him, I knew it was a problem, but I didn’t think it would be this type of problem. When I hit him every breath from my body left, my body goes completely limp. I fall to the ground.”

Inky blacked out. His teammates came over to him and told him to get up. “Let’s rock man,” they said.

“I can’t,” he responded. “I can’t move. It’s a shock from my neck to my toes. I can’t feel anything.”

As he was stretchered out of the stadium, the accompanying doctor mentioned bluntly: “I don’t know how you’re alive, son. You have no pulse.”

At the hospital, he bragged to his dad about how hard he hit the other guy. His mom prayed over him and gave him a kiss. After tests at the hospital, doctors rushed in.

“He’s about to die,” one said. “You’re bleeding internally. If we don’t perform his surgery tonight, I guarantee you, you won’t be here in the morning.”

Thirteen years of preparation and dreaming, “of sacrifice, dedication and commitment boiled down to one moment.”

The door on NFL glory slammed shut.

As people came in to deliver their condolences the next day, Inky was surveying his life. Where was God in this? Had he committed the error of forming only one goal in life? What now?

“Man, Ink. You really messed it up this time, like football’s really the only thing you wanted?” he says. “You limited God to that? Like life holds no substance, no value?

“I did things right, but I never did the right thing.”

Today he laughs at people who think they’ll be fulfilled if only… if only they get a desired position or spouse or house.

“But what happens if you get it or you don’t get it?” he asks rhetorically. “What happens when God says no? (Do you) have the ability to accept what you don’t understand? Can you still see God’s plan when it didn’t go the way that you thought it would go? Can you handle it when things get off course?”

Inky had to retool. He went to rehab and learned to write with his left hand. He continued studying and got a master’s degree in sports psychology. He mentors athletes and underprivileged youth. He’s married to Allison in Atlanta, and the couple has two kids, Jada and Inky Jr.

God impressed on his heart that he had received something better: It might take a little longer to manifest, but I got something even sweeter, something more fulfilling. I got something more rewarding. I got something, son, that’s gonna carry you for the rest of your life.

He doesn’t cry over his loss because his story has helped thousands to overcome adversity.

“If you only saw the works that God has done in people’s lives around me,” Inky says. “You can’t put a price on that. Some people don’t need you to preach a sermon. They need you to live one. And so when they see you living it, They can connect and identify with that.”

After his injury, hundreds came to Christ as a result of his testimony, including his father.

“Never allow life to make you forget why you started in the first place, meaning that first time you said ’Man, I’m riding with Christ.’ Am I going to stay true to the commitment long after the excitement is gone, after you get hit by setbacks.”

 

Michael Ashcraft sells bamboo steamer baskets online to supplement his life as he writes Christian journalism.