Growing up in Strasburg, Ohio – 2 hours from Ohio Stadium – Miranda Shay McCoy was an Ohio State Buckeyes fan along with the rest of her family. These days she roots for the Michigan State Spartans. How she made the transition is an inspirational story of courage and determination.
McCoy was extremely active growing up – in addition to being a cheerleader, she also played basketball and softball. During her sophomore year in high school, she decided to focus on cheerleading and basketball. Since Strasburg is a small village with a population just over 2600, she was actually able to do both sports.
It was basketball season during her junior year and McCoy was doing what she loved — “cheering for her boys” out on the basketball court. As seventeen year-old high school girls are wont to do, she had become friends with a boy who went to a different school in the same conference. There was a problem though – she didn’t get to watch him play because the nights he played, she cheered. As fate would have it though, there was one night mid-season that he played on a Friday night that her school’s basketball team didn’t.
So, on December 28, 2007 – a night that would change her life forever – McCoy set off to go watch him play. As she drove down the road she had been on hundreds of times before, McCoy was content. Things were going great in her life.
“I was doing well in school and I felt on top of the world,” McCoy said. “I don’t know if you’ve ever felt invincible, but in that time, I did.”
On her way to watch her friend play – on a road she’s driven on for as long as she could remember – everything changed.
She was driving 35mph, completely sober and not on her phone. She doesn’t remember anything else. Simply put, the road went into a Y and instead of veering right, she went straight and hit a tree.
“I am the type of person that needs closure in any given case, even if it could potentially hurt me worse, I still need to know,” McCoy said. “The severity of my injury caused me to go into a mini coma, which usually results in memory loss, and because of that, I remember nothing. To this given day, it still drives me crazy!”
McCoy ended up breaking her neck and compressing her spinal cord. She blew out her C5 and C7 vertebrae and has a fusion from C3-C7. She went from being active 24/7 to not being able to move at all. Life as she knew it ceased to exist.
Looking back, though, she can put it into perspective.
“At the time, I was probably the luckiest girl in the world,” McCoy said. “My entire town, and basically everyone around us, came together and to this day, they still support me like crazy. My family and friends have never left my side.”
Coming up on 8 years later, there are good days and there are bad days – and for the vast majority of the time, the good days win out. But this past winter, McCoy found herself in a dark state of mind.
“Nothing was helping and life was hitting me in ways I never knew existed,” she said. “Football and basketball season, in some way, always tugs at my heart. Of course I miss cheering, but even more so, I missed playing the game (basketball) beyond belief.”
She was depressed. Miserable. Even though McCoy had the strongest support network a quadriplegic could ask for, it was a complete stranger that helped her get out of her dark place. A stranger named Connor Cook.
“His love for the game”
McCoy loved playing sports. She misses it dearly. When she comes across a player that loves the game that they are a part of, she pays attention. It was that way with Connor Cook.
She remembers the first time she watched him play was in the Rose Bowl on January 1, 2014.
“I was mesmerized,” Miranda said. “At one point, I remember seeing him have this look in his eyes and it was so reassuring and confident. His love for the game covered his face and not once did I doubt they’d win the game.”
The Spartans did indeed win the Rose Bowl over Stanford that day. And McCoy started paying more attention to this guy named Cook.
McCoy is from Ohio, but she does therapy in Florida at a gym that specializes in spinal cord injuries, where she has made major strides. She usually goes down to the gym for the winter and when she went last winter, she had a new trainer.
During small talk with her trainer, Big Ten football came up. She told her new trainer that above all, she stays supportive of “our Big Ten boys” and up until watching Connor play, she was a huge Buckeyes fan along with the rest of her family. She explained this to him, but also told him that she was becoming much more of an MSU fan. Surprisingly to her, most of his friends were Spartan fans as well.
After this conversation with her trainer, every workout she had after that, he messed with her about Cook. At the time, the facility had an intern from Michigan and she engaged in harmless trash talk with McCoy. To Miranda’s surprise, the intern got Cook’s autograph for her the last day she was at the gym before she came back to Ohio.
“I was so incredibly shocked,” she said. “I am well aware I am nothing special and I’m sure he signs stuff all the time, but he still took the time out to do this for me. I never thought I could think any higher of this man, but in that moment, everything changed.”
“I push myself”
During McCoy’s bad state of mind, the Cotton Bowl comeback happened. Michigan State trailed by twenty points to start the fourth quarter but rallied to win 42-41 over Baylor.
“Yet again, when I think almost everyone else was freaking out, there was Connor with that look in his eyes,” she said. “Not for a second did I worry once I saw him.”
After the huge win, McCoy sat there in her wheelchair, in her room, just thinking about it all and how it applied to her life.
“He didn’t give up when potentially all the odds were against them, so why should I?” McCoy recalled thinking at that moment. “I know it sounds kind of cheesy, but in one game, I was pulled out of this dark place. I could never thank Connor enough for that and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. This incredible man is a leader to the core, and whether or not he’s the captain, it will never take away from his character and how he pushes everyone.”
Since this revelation, McCoy says she has made huge strides in almost every aspect of her life.
“I push myself to not only be a better person, but to also pay it forward as much as I possibly can,” she said. “I have many plans in the works and, like Connor, nothing is going to stop me from getting what I want.”
That might sound a little much for a football game, you might be thinking. But you’d be wrong.
“The drive and determination Connor had in the game against Baylor was life changing,” McCoy told me. “I am to the core a realist and I do not mess with bullshit. I always say what I mean and I truly cannot stress enough how much he altered my way of thinking on every level to exist. He had this look in his eyes and he was unconquerable. I remember thinking to myself like, these are the moments we live for and would never trade in. I applied this to my workouts and just everyday thinking and choices.”
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“This is my life”
Miranda has not allowed her wheelchair to stop her from living her life.
“This obviously is not the life I ever imagined I would be living, but is it ever for anyone?” McCoy asked, already knowing the answer.
She has earned a degree in Human Services and plans on going back for her bachelor’s degree next year. Since she is constantly traveling, she studies through the University of Phoenix, who she says have been great in working with her and her situation.
McCoy is currently working on a novel and she hopes to get it published someday. A memoir twisted with a little bit of fiction, she says it means the world to her. She has been in contact with a few different publishing companies and she’s pleased with where everything is going.
Months ago, McCoy decided that she would be at this Saturday’s game between Michigan State and Ohio State.
“This is Connor’s senior year and I am not going to miss this game,” she said. “I just want to be 110% sure I can see because it’s not like I can stand, you know?”
“Going out for a game in late November is something I never do,” McCoy said. “This is how serious I am!”
Her family has secured her tickets through an online website and she plans on talking to Ohio State officials early to make sure that she will be moved to an accessible section. When Saturday arrives, she’ll be joining her friends and family at their Buckeye tailgate before the game. But she’ll be rooting for the visiting team.
How does she see the game going? She’s nervous but she’s more concerned about Cook’s health than anything else.
“OSU is his food on the table that needs to be finished in his mind,” she said. “My anxiety is ridiculous and I’ve been praying to my rosary constantly. I know I sound crazy, and I probably am, but I don’t want him to get hurt badly. I know how I felt when I could no longer play the game I loved and I was only decent and held my own. This is Connor Cook we’re talking about. He’s one of the great ones. We can only pray and hope for the best at this point. Everyone needs to be playing their A game and then some. We shall see.”
Regardless of if he leads Michigan State to the victory on Saturday or not, Cook has already provided a major win to a person whom he has never before met. When he takes the field at Ohio Stadium, Cook can look over to the accessible section and see a young woman in a wheelchair making the most out of her life. She might not be able to physically clap or stomp her feet. But she’ll be yelling and cheering for Cook and the Spartans while following her own advice:
“This is my life, and you better be damn sure I am living it.”
Make sure to read part 2: Here’s the story of when Miranda McCoy met Connor Cook in Columbus, Ohio