The Collegian
Thursday, February 22, 2024

Former football player is paralyzed from chest down

Less than five years after leaving the University of Richmond, a former Spider student-athlete is now unable to walk.

Richard Bagby, a former Richmond football player, was injured on Aug. 30 while doing belly-flops into an above-ground pool during a cookout at a friend's Richmond home. He hit his head on the bottom of the pool and fractured the sixth cervical vertebrae making him paralyzed from the chest down, said his mother Mary Ann Bagby, associate director of admission at the University of Richmond.

Bagby was taken to the VCU Medical Center where he underwent nine hours of surgery to fuse the vertebrae, she said.

Bagby, a Collegiate High School graduate and Richmond resident, transferred back home to Richmond from Boston University in 2003, Bagby's friend Adam Packett said. Bagby was a tight end on the football team for the 2003 and 2004 seasons.

"He is one of the most athletic people I've ever been around," Packett said.

Bagby went to Boston University on a basketball scholarship but returned to Richmond because he wanted to play football, Packett said. Packett played on the offensive line with Bagby while at Richmond.

Bagby's prognosis is unknown. He is now in the Physical Rehabilitation Unit at VCU, Mary Ann Bagby

said. She expects him to stay there for about two months.

"The expectation is that he will become fully independent, but in a wheelchair," she said. She said she hoped he would be able to return to Richmond and complete his degree in sociology.

Bagby's sister Sarah gave birth to a son, Samuel Richard, four days after Bagby's accident occurred, Mary Ann Bagby said. She said Sarah, a graduate student at Indiana University-Bloomington, gave her son the middle name Richard after her brother.

Bagby has received support from the many members of the university, including President Edward Ayers, Mary Ann Bagby said. More than 100 people have visited Bagby at the medical center.

"The university community has been incredibly supportive," she said. "I've felt that sense of community for the last 20 years, but even more so now. Through the university community as well as high school coaches, high school classmates, high school faculty, all the way through. It's been phenomenal."

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The Spider football team has also been showing its support for the former player.

"The football team signed a poster for him and it was up in his room," Packett said.

The team was going to give him a game ball if they won its game on Sept. 6 against Virginia, but senior quarterback Will Healy said that did not go as planned. Healy was a teammate of Bagby's on the football team.

"I hung out with him a lot," he said. "I practically lived with him one summer. I think Richard's always a guy that's a lot of fun to be around.

"He would constantly do anything for you. He enjoyed having fun, always enjoyed having a good time.

If you were around him, you were going to have a good time."

Bagby's condition and spirits have improved during the last week since he had surgery, Packett said. "He was upbeat," he said. "He was laughing."

He was feeling better at the end of the last week, Healy said.

"I could tell a huge difference," he said. "He was having fun with the nurses, joking around with them."

"He has not lost any of his sense of humor," Mary Ann Bagby said. "He has the intensive care unit in stitches a good part of the time, as well as the physical rehabilitation floor, so he's keeping everybody else upbeat, which is pretty much his personality."

Bagby's injury has given his friends some perspective.

"Life's a fragile thing," Healy said. "He goes from having a blast one second to not being able to walk the next. It's a lesson for all of us to look at and say it just as easily could have been us."

Bagby's personality gives his friends and family hope that he will overcome this setback, they said. "If anybody could get through this, fight through this, it would be Richard," Packett said.

"He's the kind of guy with just a huge, huge heart," Mary Ann Bagby said. "The doctor said today that they were going to try to hold him back just a little bit because he was becoming perhaps a little overzealous with his rehab and his therapy. He's doing everything that he can do to move forward."

This version CORRECTS the lead in the Sept. 18 print edition to say that Bagby has not yet graduated. Contact reporter Stephen Utz at

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