Taquarius Wair, a college football player who survived a fire that left him severely burned when he was 4 years old, won the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at the 2020 ESPY Awards, which were handed out in a virtual ceremony Sunday night.
“I remember watching my brother’s skin slip off his body like plastic,” his brother Richard recalled in a video telling Wair's story.
Wair’s sister, 6, died in the fire. He had burns all over his body and was given a 20% chance of surviving.
He had several surgeries over the years and lost his fingers on his left hand. Soon, though, he showed a gift for football when he discovered the game at the age of 7.
“My life became memorable when I found football," he said. "They put the ball in my hands and it was over from there."
“When I put that helmet on, walk out to the field, I was just like everybody else out there, you know? Ready to show what I can do.”
Wair's mother, Shawnee, said his determination sets him apart.
“He’s not gonna let nobody stop him. (He's) gonna let you know who he is,” she said.
Wair continued to play football, even when he had doubts about how he could perform on the field.
“There’s multiple times I wanted to quit, but I just know I can’t quit, you know. That’s the easy way out,” he said, noting that some coaches wouldn’t play him because of what he had been through. “But I didn’t quit. I’m going to college now for football, so I proved them wrong.”
Wair currently plays running back at Mesabi Range College, a junior college located in Minnesota.
“It’s easy for you to go feel sorry for yourself. It’s hard to chase your dreams and he’s willing to walk into the unknown,” his mother said.
Wair said the key to his success is to always push on through adversity.
“I just want to be successful. Keep moving. Keep your head up. You’re gonna have some ups and down, just don’t stop. Don’t give up and follow your dreams. That’s it,” he said.
Wair was given the award as a surprise by Shaquem Griffin, a linebacker with one hand who plays for the Seattle Seahawks.
"This is humbling for me right now. I've just been through a lot, so it's just in my nature not to give up. My family won’t let me give up," Wair said.
“I chase what I believe in and I’m here. Let’s see where I can go from here,” he added.
The Jimmy V Award for Perseverance is named in honor of late North Carolina State basketball coach Jim Valvano, who died from cancer in 1993. He gave a rousing speech at the ceremony that year shortly before his death.
The ESPYs awards ceremony, which traditionally takes place during the Major League Baseball All-Star break, was also bumped up a few weeks.