WATCH: Minnesotan Burn Victim’s Story Honored at ESPYs

Taquarius Wair

Courtesy of Minnesota Vikings Taquarius Wair overcame burns and losing fingers during a house fire to playing college football, earning himself the ESPY Jimmy V Perseverance award Sunday night.

Taquarius Wair is like many college football players. He balances his schoolwork and the game he loves, both at Mesabi Range College in Virginia, Minn. But Wair’s journey to Minnesota’s Iron Range is a path few have carved for themselves.

Wair’s family home in Minneapolis caught fire in 2005 when he was four years old. Knocked into a month-long coma, Wair suffered third-degree burns on 55 percent of his body and lost four fingers on his left hand, the Star Tribune’s Randy Johnson said.

He had a 20 percent chance to live, but by staying positive, Wair worked his way to becoming a college football player, earning himself the Jimmy V Perseverance Award at the 2020 ESPY Awards.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the award show was not held, and instead, ESPN found ways to surprise their award recipients, Wair included.

Seattle Seahawks linebacker Shaquem Griffin, whose hand was amputated when he was four years old due to complications from amniotic band syndrome, presented the honor virtually to Wair with his mother:

“On behalf of the ESPYs, they brought me here, and I couldn’t ask for a better spot to be in to be able to talk to you. Jimmy V talked about perseverance and overcoming all obstacles, [someone] who shows nothing but grind, nothing but perseverance and attitude and grit, and I want to let you know that you’re that guy. And I’m proud of you, bro.

Many more to come, brother. Many more to come.”

Wair said he carries the words of former North Carolina State men’s basketball coach Jim Valvano, who won a national championship and later was memorialized for his battle with cancer, with him every day: “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”

“It is an honor to receive the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance and humbling to be on a list with the previous recipients. I use the phrase ‘Don’t give up’ in my life every day, and I will continue to do so in the fight for my dream,” Wair said during the video ceremony.

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Minnesota Vikings Honor Wair as Hometown Hero

The Minnesota Vikings honored Wair last August when the Vikings faced the Seahawks in the 2019 preseason. While it was likely his first time in front of a crowd of 60,000, it wasn’t his first time he’d stepped on the turf of U.S. Bank Stadium and he hopes it won’t be his last.

Wair played both running back and linebacker for Minneapolis North, a school on the north side of Minneapolis (a predominantly Black and underserved community) that nearly shuttered in 2010. The school repositioned itself as a small college-prep community school that has since set state records for its graduation rates, a feat the Star Tribune attributed partially to the school’s improving sports programs in helping boost initial enrollment.

The Minneapolis North Polars have made it to the Minnesota State High School League football tournament six years in a row, including in 2018 when Wair and his team made it to the semifinal round at U.S. Bank Stadium. He had five tackles and a sack in a 34-20 loss to eventual runner-up Barnesville.

Wair has since competed as a backup running back at Mesabi Range College and helped the Norsemen win the Minnesota College Athletic Conference Eastern Division title last season.

His mother says it’s his dream to become a member of the Vikings.

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