When I woke up in the hospital, I couldn’t feel anything. I was still drugged up. I could hear people in the room talking, and I remember hearing my mom’s voice. I tried to listen to what they were saying — just … ear hustling, you know? Trying to pick up whatever I could and piece together what had happened.
I heard somebody say “accident.” I figured it must have been pretty bad for me to end up in the hospital.
Then my heart rate went up and the monitors started beeping real fast, so the doctor sedated me. Put me back under. My mom told me that he did that the next couple of times I woke up before she finally told him, “Don’t do that. Let him know what’s going on. He wants to know.”
I had a tube in my mouth so I couldn’t speak. But I could move my hands. I signaled for somebody to bring me a pen and paper.
I wrote: “What’s going on?”
“You were in a car accident,” my mom said. “You lost your leg.”
I tried to look down and see for myself, but I was lying down and I didn’t have the energy to sit up or even lift my head. So all I could really see was my toes sticking up.
Only one set.
I went back to the paper.
“I don’t have toes?” I wrote. “Where does it stop?”
I don’t really remember what my mom said next. It’s all kind of hazy. People in the room started talking again — trying to talk to me, I think — but I just closed my eyes, took a breath, and had a one-on-one with God.
I was alive. I thanked Him for that. Then I asked Him what this all meant. Like, Show me the meaning of this. Help me understand what I don’t understand. Why did this happen? What’s your plan here, God? What’s your story?
I had so many questions.
I didn’t even remember the accident. I had blacked out. Even now, I don’t remember it … luckily.
That would be a memory that I wouldn’t want to remember.
One of the last things I do remember from the night of the accident is being at home asleep with my son, Deuce. He was six days old at the time.
He was born on Saturday, November 5. I was supposed to have a workout with the Chiefs that Monday, so I had to fly out on Sunday, the day after Deuce was born. I basically went straight to the airport from the hospital, but I got there a little late and missed the flight. I scheduled another flight that day from Cincinnati, but I wasn’t able to make that, either.
It had been about a month since the Dolphins had released me. My football future was uncertain, and now, I hadn’t just missed a flight … I had missed an opportunity. My agent was pretty upset with me.
But I wasn’t trying to hear it. For the first time in my life, football wasn’t my biggest priority. I wasn’t even thinking about my employment status.
I spent that whole week just being a new dad.
Just … learning how to be a father.
Then, that Friday night, I was at home in Columbus, Ohio, asleep with Deuce. It was late. A friend of mine was in town — we had played football together in college — and he came over. I got out of bed and we went out for a little bit.
We stopped at a bar. Not to drink, just to see a couple of friends. It was already like 1:30 a.m. anyway. Last call was over with. So we just popped in, said hi to a few people, then we rode out to go to Waffle House.
I wasn’t driving crazy or being reckless or anything — my friend will tell you that. And he remembers everything from that night. He didn’t black out like I did, and he says I wasn’t driving crazy.
But I was driving fast.
I was speeding.
Then we hit a bump and started to swerve.
I remember catching the wheel. I got the car straightened out, but the freeway curved to the left, and we just kept going straight, right through the guardrail.
A piece of the guardrail came through the car right over top of my legs and trapped them against my seat. The car got stuck on the guardrail for a second before the guardrail snapped and the car went airborne. I wasn’t wearing my seat belt, and I got ejected out the side of the car, like a slingshot. When I flew out, my legs were still trapped. My right leg bent back underneath the guardrail and I tore all the ligaments in my knee and part of my hamstring before it slipped free.
My left leg bent back, too … but it didn’t slip free.
It snapped off and stayed in the car.
After the car settled, my friend — like I said, he never blacked out — was looking for me. He had had his seat belt on, so he was still in the car. He saw my leg next to him — it was left in the armrest. But he didn’t see the rest of me.
From what I’m told, I landed about 30 feet from the car. The bottom half of my leg was just gone. It was severed, and the blood was rushing out of my body while I was lying in the grass. I’ve been told by doctors that from the time of the impact, I had three — maybe five minutes at most — to live before I bled out.
That’s how close I was to dying that night.
To my son having to grow up without a father.
There were some people in a car behind us, and they stopped to call 911. There was also a fire station right at the next exit, so the emergency vehicles were able to get to me really quick. The paramedics were able to control the bleeding enough to get me to the hospital and eventually stabilize me.
That 911 call — and those paramedics — saved my life.
I also suffered a concussion in the accident, but besides that and the injuries to my two legs, I was straight. I had some scratches on my upper body from flying through the tree branches, but luckily I didn’t have any serious head trauma or anything like that. No swelling. No brain damage.
I just … didn’t have a leg.
When I woke up in the hospital and was writing notes to my mom, I had an x-fix — that’s short for external fixation — bar stabilizing my right leg. It was drilled into my leg bone on each side of my knee to keep my leg from moving while the doctors worked on trying to save however much of my left leg as they could.
My leg had snapped off right below the knee. (My mom actually had to go to the morgue at the hospital and identify it.) The trauma was so severe that the surgeons definitely couldn’t reattach it, and they actually had to cut even more of my leg off, until I only had about 10 inches of my femur left, if you measure from the hip. When I was finally able to look at it, the nub was all swollen and stitched up. It was like the dude from that cartoon Hey Arnold! — it looked like his head, all swollen and shaped like a football.
When I first woke up, I think the biggest fear for my mom, my girlfriend and everybody else in the room was how I was going to react. I was a football player. A running back. When I found out that I lost my leg, what was I gonna say? How would I feel?
And trust me, it was a lot to process. I mean, it’s been 18 months and I’m still trying to process it.
But after I sat in my hospital bed and had that one-on-one with God, I decided to let everything go. It was all in His hands, and I just … accepted it.
The way I saw it was, if He’ll lead me to it, He’ll lead me through it.
Emily Johnson/The Players' Tribune
Then, I opened my eyes, picked up the pen and wrote another note to my mom.
I wrote: “My whip game still proper!”
Meaning, Don’t think this means I’m not a good driver!
I don’t think anybody expected that. When my mom read that out loud, everybody in the room kind of smiled — just a liiiiittle bit, you know? The whole vibe changed because I think that let everybody know that no matter what had happened, or what was going to happen next, I was still me. Two legs, one leg, no legs … I was still Isaiah Pead.
I think that was when everybody knew that we were gonna be all right.
And I didn’t know it at the time, but hindsight being what it is, I’ve come to understand why all this happened. I have the answers to all the questions I asked God that day.
That accident — this whole situation — was God’s way of telling me that it was time for me and football to part ways.
You’re probably thinking the same thing I thought: A broken leg would have done it! Maybe a torn-up knee or something. But c’mon, God … did you really have to take the whole leg?
Well, for His purpose, I truly believe He did.
Because if I had just broken my leg, or torn something, I would have just kept trying to come back. I had been playing ball since I was eight years old. It was my routine. It was my entire identity. I would have kept chasing that dream. That’s just what I had always done.
But the truth is — and I didn’t even know it at the time, but … I was miserable.
I didn’t have a job. I had basically been on three teams in four years. I had been waived three times and cut four times. And the phone wasn’t ringing, man. If I was being honest with myself — which I wasn’t — I was chasing a dead end. This was supposed to be the dream? Nah. The only reason I couldn’t let go was because … to that point, there had been no life for me other than football. It was everything I knew.
But now, I had a son. I had a new purpose. And I honestly think God had more of a plan for me.
So he wasn’t just letting me know that my football dream was over.
He wanted to create new dreams in my life.
Emily Johnson/The Players' Tribune
It was tough at the beginning. Every now and then I would see myself in the mirror, or catch my shadow on the pavement, and I’d be like, Damn, you really got one leg, bro….
My friends and my family have been extremely supportive. Ain’t nobody babying me or treating me like I’m broken. And I’m telling you, there are things that come up every day that I would have never expected.
If I go in the house and leave my bag in the car, I hop back out there, grab it and pull it inside myself. If the laundry basket needs to be taken downstairs, I’ll figure it out.
Or sometimes I’ll be staying in an Airbnb, and they won’t have a shower chair. So I’ll have to shower standing up. And that’s hard, you know?
I’m serious. Try taking a shower, standing on one leg. No cheating, cause I sure as hell can’t cheat it.
It’s more tiring than you’d think.
The worst was probably when I first got my prosthetic walking leg, and I was just learning how to use it. I’d be out in public, and — you know, I was somewhat of a public figure for a little bit, so I was kind of used to people noticing me or looking at me. But this was different. I’d be out at the mall or something, and I’d be … struggling. Stumbling. Walking funny. And, you know, people would be looking at me, staring and what not, and I’d be like, Damn, I’m just trying to walk here, people….
That sucked, because nobody wants to be pitied.
That’s the f***ing worst.
So yeah, there have been a lot of little struggles. Every day is game day when you only got one leg. You gotta wake up with that fire. With that chip. Because you’re at a disadvantage.
I’ve embraced the challenge. I feel like I’ve been reborn. I still celebrate the day of the accident because it’s the day my life changed forever — and for the better, I think. I mean, I’ve spent almost every day for the last 18 months with my son. If I was still playing football — still chasing that dream — there no way I would have been able to do that.
And that right there has been worth every little struggle.
I have a new life now. I’m a family man. I started a trucking business, so I’m a businessman now, too. And I still have new ambitions.
A little over a month after I went home from the hospital, my dad and I went down to Orlando for the Pro Bowl. My boy Janoris Jenkins was down there, and we were hanging out in his hotel room.
This was the first time he’d seen me since the accident. I didn’t have my prosthetic leg yet, so I was in a wheelchair, and I caught Janoris kind of staring at me. I looked at him like, “What, bro?”
And he said, “Man, you could go to the Paralympics.”
I laughed it off like, “Paralympics? Shoot, I need to get outta this wheelchair first.”
“Nah, I’m serious,” he said. “We goin’ to the Paralympics, baby!”
He pretty much yelled it.
“WE GOIN’ TO THE PARALYMPICS, BABY!!!”
It was something I had already thought about, but at that point it was a long way off. But for Janoris to call it out like that — to really put it out there? That kind of motivated me. It gave me that chip on my shoulder that I always had on the football field, you know? When you got your boys rooting for you, you can’t let them down.
So as soon as I got my first prosthetic walking leg — which was in August of 2017, about nine months after the accident — I started asking about a running leg, and I got referred to a clinic in Oklahoma City that specializes not only in running prosthetics, but also above-the-knee amputees like me.
Emily Johnson/The Players' Tribune
The first time I put that running leg on and hit the track — standing up, firing off the line and just … moving — it was indescribable, man. I’m still learning how to run again and how to balance myself and what muscles to use and when. It’s definitely different. But it’s all technique, and I’m used to that. I feel like I’m back at two-a-days, trying to perfect my craft.
It’s going to be a long process, getting comfortable with my new running leg. But there have definitely been a couple of times where … man, I don’t know … like, moments where I was striking it right. It fit right. And I felt normal. Moments where I just felt powerful again, and I remembered what it felt like to burst through a hole and hit the second level.
I miss doing that. I miss football — even though I can admit now that I was miserable, I still miss it. It was my first love, you know? Those were the best times of my life. Just competing. Dominating. I’ve watched some of my old football highlights over the last 18 months — at home, with Deuce. I’m happy that I still get to share those memories with my son and let him know that Daddy could ball back in the day.
But like I said, God has new dreams for me now.
And I think one of those is to compete in the Paralympic Games.
When I played football, I played for me. It was what I wanted to do. It was my dream. And yeah, I want to compete in the Paralympics so that I can get back to being an athlete, because that’s something I really want for myself. But I also feel like I have an obligation to compete so that I can inspire others to chase their dreams, and let them know that nothing can hold them back — whether that’s for my own son, for people who used to follow me when I was playing ball, or for a kid out there who’s in a situation like mine and struggling to make sense of it. I believe I can be an example.
I asked God that day from my hospital bed to show me the meaning of this. I asked Him why this happened to me. Now, I believe He’s showing me. I’m developing new dreams, new ambitions. I’m seeing that there’s life other than football, and I’ve found it. I’ve found a happy life.
I feel like I’ve been reborn. I’m still able, I just got a short limb. I feel like I can still compete at the highest level, and still be a champion. It’s like, yeah, I lost my leg, but I haven’t lost my heart, you know? And no matter what kind of struggles I face, I’ll always have that.
I’ll always have my heart.
Can’t nobody take that from me.