News & Stories
January 11, 2023

Moving his mountain

By Rick Woodall


When Justus Edwards (21C) started up the ramp to Berry’s commencement stage last May, there was no denying the significance of the moment.

Less than four years earlier, the Alabama native was competing for Berry in a football game at Kentucky’s Centre College when a spinal-cord injury left doctors doubting whether he would ever walk again. In the immediate aftermath, Edwards could only move his big toe, and it took hours of focus just to do that.

Yet there he was, making his way on stage with the assistance of a walker, graduation robe unzipped to reveal the No. 14 Viking jersey that had so inspired teammates and the Berry community. He fist-bumped President Steve Briggs as he received the diploma signifying the exercise science degree he had completed the previous December, then unleashed a well-deserved roar.

“I felt a lot of emotions, but if I had to choose one I would say PROUD,” Edwards recalled of the moment when the Valhalla crowd rose to its feet to salute his accomplishment. “Never giving up on my education but finishing what I started meant the world not only to me but my family as well.

“I also felt very thankful to all the people who believed in me and helped me get to this point,” he added, praising the Berry peers, tutors and teachers who went above and beyond in their support during long hours of study in and out of the classroom. “It wasn’t hard coming back to such a loving place with a great community of people behind me cheering me on and helping me along the way.”

Within days, the cheers that rang out on graduation day echoed nationally thanks to video shared by the likes of Hoda Kotb and NBC’s The Today Show – but Edwards will be the first to tell you the game is not over yet. Not by a long shot.

“The journey’s not done,” he stated. “This is just one mark off the list.”


"I have grown into the man that God has designed me to be. I have been broken down and rebuilt for His purpose."

— Justus Edwards


Walk of faith
“I will never forget, for as long as I live, going out there right after he got injured and just how calm he was,” Berry head coach Tony Kunczewski recalled in an interview with Berry’s student media. “I can vividly remember him saying, ‘Hey, I’m going to be all right. God’s got me. We’re going to get through this.’”

The life Edwards lives today is a testament to those words, though the way forward has been one of behemoth struggles, significant pain, bone-deep weariness and tiny victories.

“You name it, and we’ve tried it,” he explained, citing the many different types of therapies and treatments he has undergone. “Anything we could do to get these legs moving again functionally with my brain.

“It’s been tough,” Edwards added. “But I’ve had some of the best people beside me to walk me through this process. They never gave up on me and, most importantly, never let me give up on myself.”

At every juncture, strength has flowed from Edwards’ powerful Christian faith, pushing him forward even though the path was not of his choosing and ultimately filling him with gratitude for lessons learned along the way.

“I have grown into the man that God has designed me to be,” he declared. “I have been broken down and rebuilt for His purpose.”

Edwards has believed since childhood that his purpose would involve helping others. His journey as a spinal-cord patient has shaped that purpose into a passion for assisting those who face challenges like his own. To that end, he now aspires to become a Doctor of Physical Therapy, but he’s not about to wait for another graduation day to start making a difference.

Already, he has been trained as a mentor with the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, enabling him to go into hospitals and “enter into the fight” with patients at the earliest stage of recovery.

“It’s a blessing and very important to play such a role in someone’s life as they have just experienced a life-altering injury,” he emphasized. “It really matters who is around you and who speaks life into your life as you are going through this tough time.

“To have somebody there to tell you the good, the bad, the ups and the downs not just in that moment but throughout the rest of your life, that’s really big,” he added. “To be able to do that in my hometown [of Birmingham] has meant a lot to me.”


Edwards also has started a clothing line and foundation to raise money for patients and families dealing with spinal-cord injuries, in addition to serving as a motivational speaker – not easy for someone who once believed his story was not meant to be heard.

Overcoming that reluctance with encouragement from mentor and former University of Georgia linebacker Rennie Curran, Edwards quickly discovered that speaking filled him with the same joy he once felt on the football field. Now he relishes having a platform for inspiring others and pointing them toward the same power that sustains him.

Edwards ultimately hopes to reach an even wider audience through a book he is working on with an all-together fitting title: Tackling Trials. The writing process has been emotional at times, even drawing tears, but he is excited by the opportunity to be “honest and vulnerable” as he helps others to see “how I have gotten through life’s toughest battles with faith, dedication and support by my side.”

How are you waiting?
While the thought of quitting has never entered his mind – “That just ain’t in me” – Edwards does admit to growing weary at times: “I have gotten to the point where I was just tired. Tired of fighting. Tired of being strong … and battling day in and day out in therapy. Just tired.

“One thing I’ve really learned is patience,” he said. “But it’s not just about patience. It’s about how are you waiting? Are you upset, angry, waiting for God to do this for you, or are you helping people? Are you creating new avenues? What are you doing in that in-between space from the time that you were down to the time that you’re getting back up on your feet? And do you really believe this can happen for you?”

Asked what he would say to those facing their own trials, Edwards offered well-internalized encouragement rooted in faith and forged in the fires of personal experience: “You were assigned this mountain in life to show others that it can be moved.”

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