Hernandez aims to educate kids, families with paralysis

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FRISCO, Texas – FC Dallas team captain Daniel Hernandez admits he’s not a big reader. But following the tragic car accident that paralyzed his younger brother Nico from the chest down, Hernandez was in search of guidance – of something or someone who could help him understand the situation that had been thrust upon his brother and their close-knit family.

He turned to the late Christopher Reeve, the well-known actor who became quadriplegic after being thrown from his horse during an equestrian competition.

“I bought his book (Nothing is Impossible) right after my brother’s accident, and I loved it,” Hernandez said. “It was all kind of personal and tied in to my whole experience with my brother going through his accident, and the drama and disappointment that we had faced.”

The 33-year old defender, who was only 21 at the time of the accident, promised himself that one day he would find a way to support other people going through the same hardship his brother Nico faces on a daily basis. But it wasn’t until Hernandez returned to MLS (and his hometown of Dallas) late last season after several years playing in Mexico that such an opportunity presented itself in the form of the Pepsi Refresh Project.

To put it simply, the Pepsi Refresh Project aims to foster innovation in social good through funding ideas submitted through their Web site, www.refresheverything.com.  As part of their worldwide initiative, Pepsi partnered with all 16 clubs across MLS to each submit one idea that will vie for fan votes and an ultimate $50,000 Pepsi Refresh grant to fulfill their project.

The FC Dallas player chosen to participate was none other than Daniel Hernandez.

“I had been looking for years trying to figure out a charity or a foundation to support because I didn’t want to just get behind some charity by picking a needle out of a haystack,” Hernandez said. “The first thing I thought of was my brother, because it’s something personal with me. I knew I could support and back something like that 100 percent because of what it means to me, and what it means to my brother.”

The idea came full circle by teaming up with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, whose Quality of Life Grants Program help families deal with the day-to-day challenges of living with paralysis – something Hernandez understands all too well.

“No one can ever imagine what a person in a wheelchair has to go through – I can’t even imagine what my brother has to go through, or what he feels or thinks every day waking up,” said Hernandez. “We’re going to try and educate these people and their families and let them know that just because they’re in a wheelchair doesn’t mean they have to stop living.”

If Hernandez were to win the $50,000 grant from Pepsi, it would fund at least 10 Quality of Life Actively Achieving grants focused on adaptive sports for children with paralysis. But Hernandez said his involvement would also include both he and his brother personally. 

“I think it made him proud that I was wanting to be a part of something like this and support a foundation that, at the end of the day, he’s been affected by,” Hernandez said. “He’s on board, he’s excited about it and I think with me being involved in it, he’ll want to be involved as well.”

Priority from the grants would be placed on programs that include power soccer, which was developed specifically for people of all ages and genders who use a power wheelchair, giving them an accessible opportunity to play the most popular sport in the world.

Hernandez said Nico, who was a promising young striker at SMU before his debilitating accident, has resisted getting involved with wheelchair sports out of a desire to live as normal a life as possible – a decision he feels could be swayed with the kind of education and understanding that the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation provides.

“I think he has kind of handicapped himself in a way to where he’s not able to live his life to the fullest as far as doing activities that he might not know he can do,” Hernandez said. “So we’re going to try and educate people just like him and their families and let them know that there’s still a lot of stuff they can do.”

It’s a sentiment that even Nico, who frequently butted heads with his older brother prior to the accident but now calls him his best friend, agrees with. “There’s still a lot of stuff that I don’t know. I’ve been in a wheelchair for 12 years, and I’m still learning.”

But the window to vote for Hernandez’s Pepsi Refresh Project is rapidly closing, and fans have only through midnight on Monday, September 20th to cast their vote.

“It would definitely mean the world to me to win this $50,000,” Hernandez said. “But at the end of the day it’s not really me that’s winning. I want to win so I can help the charity (the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation) and know that my brother is that much prouder of me for doing something dear and personal to him.”

To support Daniel Hernandez and the Pepsi Refresh Project, visit www.MLSsoccer.com/PepsiRefresh/Dallas and vote 25 times a day until voting ends at midnight on Sept. 20.