In my office, I have kept a "43" sticker - given to me by a former colleague, Scott Brown - attached to my annual high school sports calendar for nearly seven years.
Every year, I replace the calendar. And every year, I take off the "43" and then re-attach it atop the new calendar.
It stares me in the face, this "43" - the number that former Eastern High football standout Adam Taliaferro wore as a Penn State freshman before his career was shortened by a horrifying injury that nearly took his life on Sept. 23, 2000.
Whenever I'm having a difficult day, the simple blue-on-white, two-inch "43" sticker serves as my inspiration . . . and puts life in its proper perspective.
How can I complain about such mundane things - the phone calls that aren't returned, the paperwork that needs to be completed, the deadlines that have to be met - when I look at "43" and realize all that Taliaferro went though to overcome paralysis and walk again?
Adam Taliaferro is my hero. Always will be. Fact is, he's a hero to thousands (millions?) and it's only fitting that Applebee's in Voorhees - located near the Ritz movie theatre, down the road from the high school where Taliaferro scored 55 touchdowns - is honoring Taliaferro tomorrow as its Hometown Hero. A wall featuring memorabilia from his high school and college career - including the jersey Taliaferro wore in an all-star game - will be unveiled and will be on display permanently.
Taliaferro will be at Applebee's from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. to mingle with patrons. He will sign his book, "Miracle in the Making," - which Brown and I authored - from 6:30 to 8 p.m., and a portion of the food and book proceeds will benefit the Adam Taliaferro Foundation.
To date, the foundation has raised over $200,000 for athletes who have suffered spinal injuries, according to Jason Cole, the organization's vice president.
The foundation was originally set up to defray medical costs for Taliaferro. Three doctors from three different hospitals told Taliaferro's parents, Andre and Addie, that they needed to make their house handicap-accessible because their son was going to be confined to a wheelchair the rest of his life.
Miraculously, Taliaferro beat the odds and, after a long rehabilitation, learned to walk again. Hence, the funds that were collected for the foundation weren't needed for him.
Thus, the foundation went a different direction - to help other injured athletes.
"My real involvement came after I met Adam, Andre and Addie and saw what type of people they are," said Tim Iacovone, the former Gloucester Catholic football coach who serves as president of the Adam Taliaferro Foundation. "And once you meet the victims and see how you can make a difference, you develop a passion to do what you can do to help. You can totally see the fruits of your labor and how you're helping people."
Taliaferro, who will talk about the foundation on CW57's Speak Up show at 9 a.m. today, has one more year before he completes law school at Rutgers-Camden.
He walks with a slight limp, and he still can't open his right hand all the way because of nerve damage from the original paralysis.
But he other than that, he is a medical miracle. He is always upbeat, always thankful to be living a normal life, always counseling people who have suffered debilitating injuries.
He is touching more people's lives than if he had ever made it to the NFL.
He is a Hometown Hero in the highest degree.
Applebee's is located on 880 Haddonfield-Berlin Rd. in Voorhees. For more information, call 856-627-6667.