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Spond turns injury into inspiration

Christian Myers | Thursday, December 12, 2013

No longer able to play the sport he loves, former Irish linebacker Danny Spond has turned his experience into a way to do something else he loves: inspiring others.

Spond, a senior, has founded the organization, Undefeated, in order to share his experience overcoming frustrated expectations through speaking engagements around the country.

“Undefeated is an organization I started to tell my story and to hopefully inspire others as they face every day challenges,” Spond said.

The centerpiece of Spond’s story is that he was set to start at outside linebacker this season when he made the decision to retire in August, a decision he made after suffering an especially serious migraine episode on the third day of practice this season.
Spond said he has a hemiplegic migraine condition, which causes sporadic, debilitating migraines that affect an entire half of his body while they last.

“Basically, it hits one side of your brain and that shuts down one side of your body,” he said. “For me it affects the right side of my brain, so I can’t use the left side of my body.”

The decision to retire early meant Spond spent the season as a student coach, helping players like his replacement, freshman Jaylon Smith.

“It was absolutely tough at first, going from being a starter to standing on the sidelines with a clipboard,” Spond said. “The biggest challenge is reaching the conclusion that everything happens for a reason, but once I was at that point it opened up everything.”

Spond said he chose to continue contributing to his team and to make the best of his situation, and it has revealed new possibilities for his future.

“I told myself I had two options in this: be sad about it and fade into the shadows or turn this into something positive and make the most of it,” he said. “This season and this organization have opened new pathways for me.”

Through Undefeated, Spond has fielded requests to speak at five events before an assembly of St. Joseph County athletic teams, both the New York and Chicago Notre Dame alumni associations, Comcast TV employees at their annual convention in Denver and a community event in his hometown of Littleton, Colo. Spond is set to graduate in January, and all five events will take place in early 2014.

Up to this point, starting Undefeated has been an enjoyable experience and he is excited about the work he will be doing, Spond said.

“The best thing about this for me is that it’s something I love to do. My whole life I’ve loved to help people. It’s very exciting and very rewarding,” he said.

“I’ve received a lot of praise from all over, which keeps me going. It’s all fun right now, really, though sitting for hours on a computer to make a website was tough.”

Spond said the outpouring of support he received after his decision to retire initially sparked the idea for Undefeated.

“When I couldn’t play anymore, I got a lot of messages – Facebook messages, letters, emails – from people who said they had gone through something similar,” he said. “Their stories helped me, so I got the idea that my story could inspire people.”

He committed to the idea and began work on Undefeated in late November after realizing that many of the job opportunities he was interviewing for, while interesting, would not allow him to do what he really wanted to do, Spond said.

Friends, family and members of the “Notre Dame family” have helped Spond to get started, he said.

“Family and friends have been my main support staff. I’ve also reached out to Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick, alums and former players,” he said.

Another Undefeated project is a book Spond is writing, to be published by Ave Maria Press, Spond said. The book is part autobiography and part companion piece for his presentation. He said he is roughly halfway through the writing process and hopes to be able to release the book around the beginning of next football season.

Spond said the book, in addition to telling the story of his retirement from football, would explore other important moments in his life, including colliding with another player in a sixth grade baseball game and being paralyzed for eight hours as a result.

“[The experience in sixth grade] set me on a path of understanding life is fragile, and I have to decide what I’m doing with it,” he said.

His overall, long-term goal for Undefeated is to make a career out of it, Spond said. While he plans to have another job for now, he is hopeful that he can eventually build up Undefeated to the point where he is speaking nationwide, as well as partnering with various sponsors and even other speakers with similar stories.

More information, including contact information, can be found at beundefeated.org.

Contact Christian Myers a cmyers8@nd.edu