WASHINGTON COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Graduating high school is often one of a student’s biggest accomplishments in their young life. But for Nate Rader of Daniel Boone High School, that milestone seems minuscule compared to what he has gone through in his final two years of school.

“That was just a small one, and I did that,” said Rader.

Rader was a football player for Daniel Boone. Number 23 had big dreams of the big league, hoping to take his talents to collegiate and professional levels.

PHOTO: Jennifer Gilliam

“I was just really going out there every day, playing my heart out. Trying to get any scholarships and then…,” Nate said as he clapped his hands together.

A freak accident on June 29, 2020 meant the rising high school junior’s life – and those dreams of playing college ball – changed in a matter of seconds.

“I was going to help a friend out doing some yard work, and all the sudden, I just slipped. My spine went like a dishrag, twisted up like that,” said Rader twisting his hands together.

The way he fell down an embankment broke his back in two places. He also broke five of his ribs.

Rader’s mom Jennifer Gilliam was there when the accident happened. She said the Johnson City Medical Center could not treat the extent of her son’s injuries, so he was rushed by ambulance to Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville for emergency surgery.

“That surgery was to give him the ability to sit up, not to walk,” Gilliam said. “So after they told me he was paralyzed, it was just go, go, go from there.”

Recovery was far from easy at first, but adapting to a new normal came naturally for Nate.

“My thing was, I’m not gonna let anyone tell me I can’t do anything. You can still live your life to the fullest, even if you have a disability,” said Rader.

That is exactly what he did: living life like nothing can hold him back. Rader attends physical therapy and works out at the gym daily.

“I always skip leg day though,” Rader joked.

“Anyone that knows Nate knows that he will succeed in whatever he puts his mind to,” said Gilliam.

One of his biggest hurdles so far was learning to drive again on his own, a freedom that symbolizes teenage independence. Nate received training and a certificate to operate hand controls installed in his car that allow him to drive solo.

PHOTO: Jennifer Gilliam

“I’m still gonna be very successful in life, that’s what I want to tell myself,” Rader said. “That’s what I tell myself every day. You’ve just got to keep yourself motivated.”

It’s that positive attitude that he hopes inspires others, especially children who may also find themselves in a wheelchair or with a disability.

“I can motivate way more people now that I am paralyzed,” said Rader with a smile.

Looking to the future, Rader has a passion for cars and hopes to work in auto-tuning or specialty engineering of vehicles. He expresses no regret at the loss of his football career, only positive hope for what the future will now bring.

“I’m super proud of him for having the great, amazing attitude that he has,” Gilliam said. “I kind of raised him like that. I raised him to be independent, to stay positive and treat others with kindness. So it doesn’t surprise me that he has dealt with it very well.”

Gilliam expressed her thanks to everyone in the community who has prayed for their family, donated money or just offered support.