High School Sports

An accident paralyzed him and took away his football dreams. Not his competitive spirit

Isaac Lipscomb of Homestead High competes in the boys 800 meter run during the 2018 GMAC Track and Field Championships finals on Friday, March 24, 2018 at Traz Powell Stadium in Miami.
Isaac Lipscomb of Homestead High competes in the boys 800 meter run during the 2018 GMAC Track and Field Championships finals on Friday, March 24, 2018 at Traz Powell Stadium in Miami. Miami Herald

Isaac Lipscomb would have been months away from lining up in a major college football stadium somewhere around the country.

His size, speed and hands made him a tempting target of multiple major programs seeking a talented wide receiver or safety.

But all of that changed in an instant on Nov. 21, 2016.

Lipscomb was the lone survivor of a car crash that afternoon that left him paralyzed from the waist down and claimed the lives of two of his friends and classmates - 18-year old Samir Barrera and 17-year old Isaiah West.

Lipscomb, then a junior at Keys Gate Charter in Homestead, suffered a spinal cord injury and remained hospitalized for the next month and a half.

Doctors told him the odds of him ever walking again weren’t good.

Lipscomb has been confined to a wheelchair ever since.

“Those were the worst days of my life,” said Lipscomb, who at 6-3 and 180 pounds had attracted scholarship offers from several schools including UCF, Syracuse, West Virginia and Cincinnati. “It was just a lot of questions and just how and why did this happen. It’s not supposed to be like this. This wasn’t supposed to happen. It felt like a movie or a dream, like it wasn’t real.”

Although his life changed forever that afternoon 18 months ago, Lipscomb’s athletic career has been reborn in a new sport.

Lipscomb, now a senior at Homestead High, has found a way back on the field as an adaptive track and field athlete.

Lipscomb, 19, is the first Miami-Dade athlete to compete in such events in track, racing and throwing at multiple major meets this season including the Youth Fair and FLRunners.com Invitationals, and became the first to compete in wheelchair events at the GMAC championships.

Lipscomb will become the county's first competitor in three state adaptive events — the 200 and 800 meters as well as the shot put – on Friday and Saturday at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.

Lipscomb hopes to follow in the footsteps of other past South Florida athletes such as Cypress Bay’s Isabella Matos and Fort Lauderdale’s Darrel Bouie, who have won state titles.

“I truly just wanted to see him have a second chance to accomplish something in life,” said Lipscomb’s high school coach Israel Alvarez, who has known Lipscomb since he was 14. “We still wanted to make him believe there’s a lot of things he could do in his situation. He could still be the athlete he was. But [the desire] had to also come from him. We looked at a couple of videos about it and it showed him that it wasn’t far-fetched for him to do something like this.”

Lipscomb had just finished his junior football season at Keys Gate when that afternoon 18 months ago, he and his friends, 18-year old Samir Barrera and 17-year old Isaiah West planned to go on a quick fishing trip.

After buying the supplies they needed, the three left a Wal-Mart near SW 137 Avenue with Barrera driving a Mini Cooper. Lipscomb lost control of the car switching lanes and it swerved off the road hitting a tree. Police later said Barrera and West were ejected from the vehicle on impact. Lipscomb was pinned inside the car, which saved his life. He was then airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital and treated for his injuries.

“Those first days in the hospital, that’s something I’ll never forget,” Lipscomb said. “But it taught me, that if I could handle something like that, I could handle anything.”

Lipscomb credited his mother, Jill, for staying with him every night in the hospital to help him through the early days as he adjusted to his condition. In the ensuing weeks, Lipscomb said he received numerous messages of support in person and on social media from teammates, teachers and even former opponents on the field and the track.

“My whole life just changed in an instant,” Lipscomb said. “It was like starting all over again. I had to learn how to do everything from brushing my teeth by myself, to getting dressed, to pushing myself around the school in a wheelchair. It was a big change in my life but I’m getting used to it as it goes on.”

In addition to his promising football career, Lipscomb was a solid track and field athlete before the accident both at Homestead where he spent his freshman year and his sophomore year at Keys Gate, competing in several field events such as the high jump, 300-meter hurdles and triple jump and also ran in sprints.

Lipscomb transferred back to Homestead after recovering from the accident and Alvarez talked him into giving adaptive track and field a shot.

“I really didn’t know anything about adaptive track,” Alvarez said. “When I came back to Homestead, I remember [Alvarez] saying, ‘You could race’ Somehow, he got someone to loan us a chair and a shot put chair and since then everything else has been going better.

“Just to be able to compete again, I felt like my old self again.”

Lipscomb’s first meet was the Spartan Invitational at Southridge in March.

Lipscomb said just the excitement of going online to compare his times and distances to other athletes after the race sparked the thrill of competition in him again.

Many that have known him for years at Homestead have noticed the positive change Lipscomb’s participation in the sport has had on him.

“He’s one of the best athletes we’ve had here at this school,” Homestead athletic director Nick Newbury said. “Ever since he took up [wheelchair track], you can see the sparkle in his eye again and he’s really taken off.”

Alvarez took Lipscomb to compete last week in the Dixie Games, an event hosted by the Dixie Wheelchair Athletic Association in Hudson, Florida that features several events for disabled athletes. There, Lipscomb set a pair of national records in the javelin and shot put.

Lipscomb also got the chance to meet U.S. Paralympian gold medalist Scott Winkler, who suffered a spinal cord injury that paralyzed him from the chest down while serving in Iraq in 2003.

"He reminds me of me when I first started competing, just with how he came out of nowhere and just has that natural talent," Winkler said. "It isn't easy when you become disabled. It's a struggle at first. He's hooked on this sport. He's so young. I would love to see him succeed."

Alvarez is planning to fund raise to get Lipscomb to compete at the 2018 Adaptive Sports USA Junior Nationals July 21-28 in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Even though his chances to be a college football star were taken away, Lipscomb said he’s driven to make the most out of his new opportunity and earn a chance to compete in adaptive track at the college level.

“That’s just what’s inside me,” Lipscomb said. “I always wanted to compete and just because I got placed in a wheelchair, that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop competing. I want to make the best out of out of my situation and see how far I can go with it.”

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