CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- When Nick Burd was a player at Matoaca High School, there was only one way he described himself... like a dog.
Not derogatory, but in the way a dog will pursue a goal no matter the odds.
“I tried to be the best that I could be every day,” Burd recalled. “But at the same time, I wanted and a tried to be going the hardest in the gym. No matter if it was a gym of three people or a gym of a 1,000 people, I tried to make sure I was going the hardest no matter what.”
“Nick was just one of those athletes that could run and jump with the best of them,” added Matoaca Athletic Director Charles Payton, who was Nick’s high school coach. “He was undersized as a center. I knew he would play a small forward or guard at the next level, but Nick was always a great athlete.”
Burd was working to play at the college level over a decade ago when a car accident changed everything about life as he knew it.
“I fell asleep,” Burd explained. “Went through a ditch, went in the air, bounced off a couple of trees, landed in the woods and hit a tree head on.
“He was in the hospital on a respirator fighting for his life,” Payton recalled. “We prayed with him and prayed with his mom. It was very difficult to see him in that position.”
Burd's accident happened just before Thanksgiving. He didn't wake up until Christmas. And when he did, he was paralyzed from the waist down after suffering a broken neck.
“Everyone who saw the car asked "when was the funeral?" Burd said shaking his head.
Burd spent four months in the hospital and another 18 in rehab to regain the use of his arms. He spent one day feeling sorry for himself before realizing he was actually lucky. He knew he could handle what was facing him while his friends could not.
“They knew that I would see the benefit, the brighter side if that's the case,” Burd said. “I didn't know it before it happened, but after the fact, I realized that it happened for a reason.”
That reason is coaching. Nick spent several years working with rec league teams and being an assistant coach with other programs before returning to his alma mater where he became a head coach at the varsity level for the first time.
“We had a lot of qualified candidates that applied for this job,” Payton said. “Nick had an outstanding interview. He really had some great ideas that were innovative and plans to help move our team to the next level.”
Admittedly, he wasn't ready for this challenge even two years ago. But his other challenges in life have prepared him to lead by example.
“I try to give them examples of just the things I have to go through to be here for them,” Burd said. “The things I have to go through just to go to sleep at night. They look at me driving my car as if I'm supposed to, and that's how I want it to be. They see the challenges and they know they're supposed to overcome them. They're challenges, they're hurdles, they're not walls that are going to stop you from doing anything.”
“Nick Burd never makes any excuses,” Payton added. “He's never in a bad mood. He's never in a negative way. He's always going to positively motivate those guys to get it done. They have no excuses. When they see what Nick can do, then they know they should be able to do it as well.”
There are a lot of reasons for Nick Burd to be bitter about what life has handed him. But he isn't because he can't be. It's not how the Matoaca community raised him, nor how they have come to know him.
“That goes back to the love. The love I got from Matoaca my whole life. The love I have for the game. The people around me, my friends, my family. It's really just the love that keeps me going,” Burd added.
Watch for Lane Casadonte's "Beyond the Roster" features Thursdays on CBS 6 News at 11 p.m. and WTVR.com. If you know someone Lane should feature, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Find unique, award-winning stories every day on CBS 6 News:Mondays: CBS 6 Gives
Tuesdays: CBS 6 Problem Solvers Investigations
🏙️ Wednesdays: Our RVA
Wednesdays: Wayne's World
🙋♀️Heroes Among Us
Thursdays: Beyond the Roster
Fridays: I Have a Story