Defensive back Frank Bice of Siena College was attempting to tackle a tight end during a football game against St. John Fisher College on Oct. 4, 1980.
Instead of hitting with his shoulder and chest, he led the tackle with his helmet. His mistake was tragic.
“On impact, I broke my neck,” Bice said. “By the time I hit the field, I was paralyzed.”
For the first time in 27 years, the now 48-year-old Bice, who is a paraplegic and a resident of Oyster Bay, Long Island, will return to Rochester to tell the rest of the story, including what he learned from his recovery and how he became a permanent deacon.
He and his wife, Liz, will lead a renewal at 7 p.m. Sept. 23-25 at Holy Cross Church, 4492 Lake Ave., Charlotte. The theme is “Live in My Love,” which is taken from John 15:9.
On Sept. 23 Deacon Bice will speak about stewardship and its role in people’s personal lives; on Sept. 24 he will speak about living a life of gratitude, which he said is the secret to life; and on Sept. 25 he will speak about achieving freedom through service.
Deacon Bice said he learned many of the major lessons of his life from the accident that ended his football days and interrupted his senior year of college. He recalls realizing after the tackle that he couldn’t move; waiting 20 minutes for an ambulance, which had left its post at the game to respond to a car accident; and being accompanied by a priest in the ambulance, which ended up at Rochester’s Strong Memorial Hospital.
“I was just praying Hail Marys out loud, over and over again,” Deacon Bice said.
At the hospital, X-rays quickly showed that he had broken his neck. The priest gave him the anointing of the sick.
“I went to confession right there,” Deacon Bice said. “I didn’t care if all the doctors and nurses were around. I thought if I’m going to die, I want to go with a clean slate.”
His injuries were not fatal but were permanent. Doctors fused several of his vertebrae.
“I was in traction for about a month, and I wound up at Strong for about three months,” Deacon Bice said. “The nursing care was phenomenal.”
His time in the hospital also was spent making friends with the Fisher students who were frequent visitors to his hospital room, including the football players he had faced the night of his injury.
After the three months at Strong, he was flown by air ambulance to a downstate hospital for five more months of care.
“A couple things happened while I was in the hospital,” Deacon Bice said. “It helped me really to have total peace with anything associated with my injury. I prayed that God would give me the ability to live my life with a positive attitude.”
He committed to saying yes to whatever God asked of him. In addition, he also learned gratitude from a visiting priest, who prayed, “Thank you Jesus,” throughout the visit.
Taking these lessons with him, he returned to Siena to finish his senior year. A roommate helped him with his daily routine.
After college, he studied at a seminary, but he decided to leave to teach at a prep school and to get engaged. He returned to seminary after he and his fianc√©e broke up, and he was within a week of being ordained a transitional deacon when he again decided to leave the seminary.
“It still didn’t feel right,” he said.
Instead, he reunited with his former fianc√©e, and they were married a year later. He later became a permanent deacon and works as a financial adviser for Merrill Lynch, aiding churches and nonprofits.
Ron Crandall, a Holy Cross parishioner, said he happened to hear Deacon Bice speak during an event on Long Island. Because of his connections to Rochester and his role as a deacon, Crandall asked him to return to Rochester to lead a retreat. He said he found the talk inspirational.
“The talk he gave in the church starts out about himself, but it ends up on a very positive note,” Crandall said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For details on the renewal, call 585-663-2244.