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Former Ferris football prospect beats the odds to overcome spinal cord injury, walk across stage to receive diploma

Jim BourdlaisBIG RAPIDS – During the last two years, Jim Bourdlais of Newberry has made a habit of triumphing over adversity and beating otherwise long odds.

On Jan. 15, 2006, Bourdlais’ life endured a cruel twist of fate as he was involved in a serious car accident during a harsh stretch of winter near the town of Barryton in Mecosta County. Emergency personnel used the Jaws of Life to extract Jim and his brother, Bill, from their vehicle.

As a result of the wreck, Bill was bruised and sore, but Jim’s injuries proved far more severe. He suffered a shattered C7 vertebra in his spine. The two young men, both of whom were members of the Ferris State University Bulldog football program, had their lives forever changed. The 6-foot-4 and 290-pound Bill, who would go on to enjoy a stellar football career, remains hopeful of a career as a professional player in the National Football League. Jim, who at that time was a 6-foot-6 and 279-pound college football prospect, had to learn a lot about himself after being paralyzed from the neck down.

Among the many lessons the brothers learned in the years since the accident, is that life, family and faith are of the utmost importance. Those are among the many lessons Jim plans to think of during commencement ceremonies at Ferris as he prepares to receive his bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and look toward his future plans to obtain a master’s degree in Criminal Justice Administration.

One of his major goals is to walk – yes, walk – across the Wink Arena stage and accept his degree from the School of Criminal Justice within Ferris’ College of Education and Human Services on Saturday, May 10.

“I am very excited to be graduating, but I really am looking forward to the master’s program next year. It has been a long time coming with some bumps in the road, but I’ve made it,” said Jim, who was airlifted to Grand Rapids after the accident, where he underwent emergency spinal cord surgery. “By me finishing school, I proved to myself that I can do anything I put my mind to … being in a wheelchair or not. Going across the stage is going to be very exciting for me. I’m almost positive that I will walk across because Kristin (Moran, his girlfriend) and I have been practicing at therapy for the past few weeks, so it should be really exciting. A lot of my classmates and teachers have never seen how tall I really am at 6-foot-6. Whenever I stand up, it always brings a smile to my face.”

The time Jim has spent at Ferris, the life lessons he has learned and the friends he has made makes any potential departure from Big Rapids too painful to consider.

“In all honesty, I love it at Ferris and I don’t want to leave,” said Jim, who achieved a major chunk of his recovery work at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids. “If they had the doctoral program, I would probably stay for that; but since they don’t, I’m thinking about getting my Ph.D. from either Michigan or Western in a few years after I graduate from the master’s program.”

After graduation, Jim hopes to get started in the workforce.

“My future plans are to finish my internship that I have already started as a juvenile probation officer in Osceola County, but (I want to) come back to Ferris to get my master’s degree, and hopefully have a job lined up after I graduate,” he said.

All things considered, Jim views life as being pretty good to him these days.

“My status right now is better than ever. I am still doing therapy two days a week and I stand quite a bit without my braces, so that makes me happy to see the giant leaps that I am taking,” said Jim, whose brother also is graduating this month from Ferris with a degree in Construction Management. “My movement and balance get better with each passing day and I truly believe that the sky is the limit for me.”