When Life Changes in a Moment
Emeka NnakaThe Center for Individuals with Physical Challenges, Ability Resources
Emeka Nnaka’s life changed in an instant when making a tackle as a defensive end for the Oklahoma Thunder semi-professional football team.
The 21-year-old Oral Roberts University student was playing for the team in a game at Fayetteville, Ark., when he sustained a spinal cord injury. It’s a player’s, coach’s and parents’ worst nightmare.
“I just laid there, not able to move,” Emeka recalled. “I felt a tingling sensation throughout my body, kind of like when you hit your funny bone. I tried so hard to give the ‘thumbs up’ sign on the way out of the stadium, but I just couldn’t do it.”
Emeka was taken to a hospital in Fayetteville, where he underwent nine hours of neck surgery. His parents and two younger sisters from Macon, Ga., quickly came to be at his side.
When he woke up, he couldn’t move anything from the chest down. But after several months of intensive physical therapy back in Tulsa, he slowly regained use of his arms, began to move his neck and learned to feed himself.
He received a wheelchair, lift and hospital bed from Ability Resources, a United Way partner agency.
Emeka, still an athlete at 6’5”, works out daily at the Center for Individuals with Physical Challenges, also a United Way agency.
“I gained more independence after going through the Center’s two-month transition program than any other therapy I’ve had,” he said.
Emeka went on to earn his bachelor’s degree from Lanston University and his master’s in Human Relations, with a focus on clinical mental health counseling, from OU-Tulsa.
One might suspect Emeka never experienced a moment of self-pity.
“Sometimes I’ll dream that I’m running and playing football, then I wake up. But I really never get depressed. My faith has served as a guide.”
Emeka currently works for A New Way, a local organization that embeds therapists into Tulsa public schools. He has also worked for Youth Services of Tulsa, another United Way agency, for several years and is currently a youth specialist providing counseling to teens.
In 2018 life threw more hardships Emeka’s way. Within 31 days, his apartment caught fire and destroyed most of his belongings, his father and primary caretaker broke his ankle, and he totaled the van that provides him independence and transportation on a daily basis.
Being the beloved local celebrity that he is, Tulsa rallied around Emeka to help in any way they could. Hundreds of people wrote in to The Ellen Show in hopes of making our Tulsa celebrity a national one, and officially garnering him the title of “Amazing Emeka” in doing so.
Emeka appeared on The Ellen Show in 2018 and was awarded $100,000 to help him buy a new van, restoring his independence and a sense of normalcy.
After The Ellen Show aired his episode, Tulsa Habitat for Humanity reached out to Emeka to meet yet another need. His new home was completed by Habitat and many volunteers in 2019 – equipped with high counters, wide doorways, and an abundance of accessibility features customized to his needs.
“Most times we don’t know how or if the seeds we plant with our lives will produce fruit,” says Emeka. “After years spent serving the community, I had no idea that I would be in another position of extreme need. The Tulsa community showed up for me once again. My story is Tulsa’s story.”
Emeka provides mentorship and motivational speaking to youth groups across the state and nationally. He also provides Keynote speeches on topics such as leadership and the intersection of hope & organizations. You can contact Emeka for booking inquiries at firstname.lastname@example.org.