Like any good prom date, Eric LeGrand let the girl call all the shots.
The former Rutgers football star-turned-national-inspiration attended the Hanover Park (N.J.) High School prom Thursday night with Gianna Brunini, whom he met a few years ago when their wheelchairs crossed paths at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange.
“She had me on the dance floor the entire night,” LeGrand told Gannett New Jersey. “I’m all tired. I was out there with those 17-year-old kids. One, I felt old, and, two, I had a great time. That’s where she wanted to be. I was her date, so I just followed her, and we were out there boogieing all night.”
LeGrand asked Brunini — who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at age 2 and lost her memory two years ago in an incident, according to an NJ Advance report — to the prom in front of students and staff at the end of a school assembly at which he spoke last month.
“(They) reached out to me in an email and explained everything Gianna has been through,” LeGrand said. “I was actually supposed to be at another event that night, but I was like, ‘How can I not say yes to this? If I can make her night, how can I say no?'”
So LeGrand — the face of spinal cord injury research and awareness through his work with the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation since soon after he was paralyzed making a tackle for Rutgers in October 2010 — said yes and the assembly was coordinated.
“Gianna is a great kid and we’re really proud of all her accomplishments,” Hanover Park Principal Tom Callanan said. “Eric came for an assembly and his message was really inspirational for us as students, teachers and administrators.”
“But it ended with him calling Gianna up on stage. Our kids went wild. There was a standing ovation for Eric and Gianna. It was probably one of the greatest moments I’ve ever seen as a high school educator of a kid being recognized, honored and cheered on by her peers. Eric made that happen.”
Of course, to seal the deal, Brunini still had to say yes when LeGrand asked.
Even though proms are old hat for LeGrand, the 25-year-old Colonia High School graduate knows asking is never a formality.
“I was real nervous,” LeGrand said. “I I didn’t know what she was going to say. Her reaction was like, ‘Yes! I would’ve said yes to a cup of coffee.'”
Where he is not like most prom dates, LeGrand brought along a film crew because he recognized the kind of inspirational story that he wants to tell on his new television show “Mission Possible,” which will air six episodes on the Fox Sports digital platform beginning in the fall.