Former NFL Spider's comeback story inspires

November 15, 2022

Alumni

Tim Hightower, a 2008 grad and former NFL running back, spent four long years away from pro football following an injury that could have ended his career. At a Spider homecoming event, Hightower discussed his new book, A Dream Worth Fighting For, about finding his way back to the field.

Hightower, current alumni relations director for the Washington Commanders, experienced a serious knee injury in 2011 while playing for the team. He is the only NFL player to return to the league after spending four years away from professional competition.

“Life changes for everyone,” Hightower said. “We all saw in March 2020 how quickly life can change. I was right at my peak performance, peak in my profession, and the next thing I knew, I was being helped off the field.”

Hightower’s years of rehabilitation helped to manage the pain and regain strength. But his medical issues — a torn ACL followed by an infection that slowed his recovery — took a toll on his mental health. 

"I was at my lowest,” Hightower said, “and it kept getting lower and lower. It was challenging navigating that, and I think other athletes will appreciate hearing my recovery story.”

 

Even though we can't always control what happens to us, everything that happens in our life can be used for a greater good.

In the book, Hightower explains how years of physical therapy and encouragement from his family and friends allowed him to return to pro football. At 29, he was signed by the New Orleans Saints in 2015.

“I made a commitment to myself in the fourth grade that I would play in the NFL, and I had to recommit myself to that journey after I was injured,” Hightower said. “Even though we can't always control what happens to us, everything that happens in our life can be used for a greater good.”

He wrote the book, he said, for that greater good. He wants his struggle to have meaning beyond just himself, and wants to make sure his story of resilience and recovery reaches others who face similar mental and physical challenges.

“When I graduated from the University of Richmond and was drafted to the NFL, I was one of the few Spiders to do that,” Hightower said. “And after everything I have been through, I am keeping another promise to myself that I won’t be the last.”

Now, in his role as director of alumni relations for the Commanders, he works to keep former players connected to the team.

“I get an opportunity to work with all the guys who've played for the organization and tie them back into the fold,” Hightower said. “The group of us that have been in the NFL, there is connection there. We have a shared experience, and our guys appreciate that.”