Written by Matt Wixon
Wixon: Ex-DeSoto player, paralyzed in 2009, is game for new challenges
Paralyzed after a violent hit at practice, Corey Borner sees new fields to conquer
LANCASTER — In a small classroom at Cedar Valley College, a dozen students look down at their papers and wait for the answer. “Who has A?” the instructor asks. “Who has B?”
Freshman Corey Borner is sitting in his wheelchair, wearing a baseball cap with “Lil Corey” stitched on the back. His phone sits on the table next to him and a Bluetooth headset is clipped to his ear as he rests his chin on a loosely clenched hand.
He looks up and lifts his left hand. His arm shakes a little, but his intention is clear.
“Why did you choose B, Corey?” the instructor asks.
“The answer is not actually stated, but it’s implied,” Borner says.
“Yes!” says Borner, flashing the smile that endures more than two years after the football injury that changed his life.
On May 6, 2009, Corey Borner was a sophomore defensive back trying to impress the DeSoto football coaches during spring practice. After years of playing in pee-wee leagues and then for the DeSoto freshman and junior varsity teams, the 16-year-old was working to earn a spot on the varsity.
A receiver crossed in front of him. Borner dived forward to make the tackle, and after his head hit the receiver’s stomach, they both fell to the ground. The receiver got to his feet, but Borner couldn’t move.
“I was shocked. I was like, ‘What’s going on?’” said Borner, now 18. “When people started getting on top of me, I was like, ‘Don’t touch me! Don’t touch me!’”
The next day, Borner was in surgery for seven hours as doctors at Parkland Memorial Hospital fused his C5 and C6 vertebrae and relieved pressure on his spinal cord. Borner spent 11 days in intensive care and almost six weeks at the Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation.
He arrived at home unable to move his lower body. He could raise his arms enough to put on a shirt and one of his beloved baseball caps, each of which has “Lil Corey” embroidered on the back.
“I know I’m going to walk again,” Borner told family and friends.
Borner no longer goes to the Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation, but he does strength training on his own. In the garage of his family’s home in DeSoto, Borner lifts light weights that are attached to his arms. He’s getting stronger, he said.
Borner cannot grasp objects, but with a device that slides on to his palm, he can use eating utensils and brush his teeth. He has the strength to wheel himself around in a manual wheelchair at home and uses a motorized wheelchair, which by no coincidence is DeSoto Eagles green, when he needs to go longer distances.
Borner said he has more feeling now in his arms, and sometimes his legs will react when his father presses on toes.
“I pull on one toe and his whole leg jumps,” Michael Borner said. “I think that means the nerves are trying to connect.”
How much progress Borner will make in the coming years, at least physically, is unknown. But he’s progressing emotionally. The “why me?” question doesn’t cross his mind as much.
“It comes to my mind sometimes, but not like it used to,” he said. “I see other people in wheelchairs give up on themselves, but I don’t see why. My goal was football, and I can’t do that, but I’ve still got another goal.”
And so Borner is at Cedar Valley College, beginning what he hopes is a path to a radio career. He’d like to be a sports broadcaster or a deejay, whichever comes first.
“As long as I’m on the radio and they hear my voice,” he said, “that’s all that matters.”
Borner’s voice is rich and tinged with a Texas drawl, which emerges most in his well-mannered responses of “yes sir” and “yes ma’am.” He sounds like he could be on the radio, and he actually has been.
A lot, in fact.
When Borner was only 8 years old, he would go to remote broadcasts for KKDA-FM (104.5). He danced, rapped and performed with his brother Daunte, now 23. Corey’s other brother, Brandon, is 28.
Borner called into K-104 so frequently that the on-air personalities started to recognize his voice and put him on the air.
“They would always say it’s Lil’ Corey,” said Borner’s mother, Charlotte Borner. “All his friends would say, ‘I heard you on the radio!’”
They might again someday. Borner hopes to eventually transfer credits to the University of North Texas and get a degree there. He’s taking only two courses now because he doesn’t have a caretaker at Cedar Valley, and to be on campus longer than four hours at a time, he needs someone to tend to personal needs.
While Borner is at school, however, he’s pretty much on his own. Sometimes a classmate will put papers in the bag that hangs off the back of his wheelchair or write something for him, but Borner is in charge.
And he’s happy about that.
“As long as I’ve got my phone right here,” he said, tapping the phone on his lap, “I’ll be all right.”
Borner seems all right in many ways. He attends DeSoto football games on Fridays and is a bit of a celebrity with students. On Saturdays, he’ll watch the DeSoto Dolphins, a pee-wee football team, and then watch sports and impress his parents with his knowledge.
The kids in the Borners’ neighborhood often ring the doorbell and ask to see Corey. He talks with them and treats them to suckers, freezer pops and fruit snacks. He smiles a lot when he’s with them, but then again, Borner has always smiled a lot.
Austin Vincent, Borner’s friend and football teammate dating to fourth grade, said Corey hasn’t changed since the injury. Now a freshman receiver at the University of Colorado, Vincent talks and texts with Borner several times per week.
“Corey’s always upbeat and full of life,” Vincent said. “The only time I ever saw Corey cry was on the one-year anniversary of it. That was an emotional time for everybody.”
Charlotte Borner tells her youngest son that, as long as she’s alive, he’ll never need to worry who will take care of him. But Borner’s parents worry about him. They wonder if he’s hiding his emotions.
About once a week, Borner asks to be taken upstairs to his old bedroom. He sleeps downstairs in a room modified for his wheelchair, but his bedroom is still decorated the way it was before the accident. It takes at least two people to get Borner and his wheelchair upstairs, where he picks out clothes from the closet, watches television and checks out his collection of model Chevrolets.
“He’s always going to say he’s all right,” Charlotte Borner said. “But I know deep down that he’s not always all right. As a mother, I can see it in his face.”
Good days and bad
There are good days and bad days for Corey. But he stays positive.
“I have a never-give-up attitude,” he said.
There are still some “why me?” thoughts, but now there are more “what ifs.”
What if he had never been injured?
“I would’ve been on the football field still,” he said. “Most definitely.”
And what if he could someday drive a car again?
Borner looks forward to that.
And what if he could be on the radio, doing sports play-by-play or introducing the newest song of his favorite musical artist, Kanye West?
Borner wants to do that.
“You’re going to have your bad days. It’s going to be hard sometimes,” he said. “But whatever your goal is, you just try to reach it and don’t let down.”
As for the biggest “what if” of Borner’s young life?
He has faith that God will let him walk again. His parents also put it in God’s hands, and the hope is evident when Michael Borner goes out to mow the lawn.
Corey rolls up in his wheelchair.
“Now Daddy,” he says, “you know if I was up on my feet, I would help you.”
“Ain’t nobody else going to get this job,” his dad responds.
“And I need your help.”