Life

Inspirational Words Served at 46th Annual Orange Bowl Prayer Breakfast

Words of inspiration and motivation were part of the main course served on Wednesday as players and coaches from Florida State and Michigan football teams gathered with other guests for the 46th annual Orange Bowl Prayer Breakfast at Jungle Island.

Baptist Health South Florida partners with the event’s organizers every year. The two college football teams will meet again for the 2016 Capital One Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium, on Friday, Dec. 30, at 8 p.m.

Every year, the Prayer Breakfast is a key event in a series of Orange Bowl festivities. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes honors student-athletes, coaches and communities that empower and encourage others to make a difference in young people’s lives. The organization has served local communities for nearly 60 years.

The guest speaker this year was Javier Perez, the South Dade High School Principal who suffered life-threatening injuries after he was struck by an SUV and, as a result, lost both of his legs. “Javi,” as he is affectionately known to his students, has always had a passion for education and sports. The accident occurred while Perez was coaching his son’s little league game.

‘I was Chosen for This’

“On April 26, my life and the lives of my loved ones changed forever,” recalled Perez during a heart-felt speech that drew a standing ovation. “I was chosen for this. Obviously, if one of the kids at the park that day went through what I went through, they wouldn’t have survived. The Lord put me in that path in the park that day because he knew I would be able to survive.”

Perez said he is in the process of receiving his prosthetics. “We’re hoping that by May, I’ll begin to take steps,” he said. “There is nothing in my heart that tells me I won’t be able to do that.” He added that he couldn’t have gotten through the last several months without the love of his family — wife, Maytee, and two children, Sabrina and Jordan — the community and his friends.

“It’s only a matter of time before I’m walking again through the hallways of my high school,” he said. “There are a lot of people with tougher challenges than mine. I have health right now, which is tremendous.” Perez concluded his speech by urging the community and those less fortunate than him to stay “Javi strong.”

Perez continues his rehabilitation at Baptist Hospital while working towards his goal of returning to South Dade High and walking without any assistance. He said he attends therapy three to four times a week, and hits the gym daily

Perez graduated in 1991 from La Progresiva Presbyterian High School in Miami and was a star two-sport athlete. In 1991, he led his high school baseball team to the State Final Four. He received a baseball scholarship to Florida Memorial and received his bachelor’s degree. He served as assistant principal at Edison and Southwest Senior High Schools before becoming principal at South Dade Senior High.

This year, the featured speakers at the Prayer Breakfast included two former Miami Dolphins players. Glenn Blackwood, who played safety for the Dolphins for 10 years, ended his career with 29 interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries. He was named as one of the top 50 Miami Dolphins players at the team’s 50-year anniversary celebration. Don McNeal, a former cornerback for the Miami Dolphins in the 1980s, retired from the National Football League in 1989 and is a member of the University of Alabama’s Sports Hall of Fame in Birmingham. McNeal played in two Super Bowls with the Dolphins: Super Bowl XVII in 1983 and Super Bowl XIX in 1985.

‘Get to Know Your Teammates’

Blackwood and McNeal, who remain close friends, sat on stools next to each other and recalled their intersecting football careers. More recently, McNeal was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).

“I have multiple sclerosis, but do you know what I call ‘MS’? I call it ‘My Savior’. I can’t handle it, but he can,” McNeal told the gathering, drawing immediate applause.

Blackwood urged young athletes to get to know each other and develop the kind of mutual admiration, respect and deep friendship he shares with McNeal.

“Often, athletes talk about the fluff in life with each other , the superficial stuff. I want to challenge you to dig in a little bit,” Blackwood said. “Ask questions. Get to know your teammates. Get to know where they’re coming from. Where they are in their station in life and what their life experiences have been like.  This way, you can get to know who they really are a little bit better.”

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 13 hospitals, more than 23,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 100 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.