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updated: 3/18/2013 5:07 AM

Rob Komosa dies more than 13 years after life-changing football injury

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  • Rob Komosa graduated from Palatine High School.

    Rob Komosa graduated from Palatine High School.
    Daily Herald file photo

  • Rob Komosa

    Rob Komosa
    Daily Herald file photo


Rob Komosa, who was critically injured during a high-school football practice more than 13 years ago, has died, sources close to his family said.

Komosa died at his home on Saturday night after he suffered breathing complications and was unable to be revived, confirmed longtime family friend and supporter Deacon Don Grossnickle, who said he was devastated by the loss.

Komosa, then 17, suffered a life-changing injury during football practice at Rolling Meadows High School on Oct. 6, 1999, that left him unable to walk, move his arms and legs, or breathe on his own.

In the wake of Komosa's injury, the community rallied around him, raising tens of thousands of dollars to help the working-class family move from their cramped home in Arlington Heights to a larger, handicapped-accessible home in Mount Prospect. The Duchossois family, owners of Arlington Park, donated a handicapped-accessible van.

Years later Komosa moved to a home he helped design in Barrington Hills, which his family was able to afford after Komosa was awarded a $12.5 million settlement from Northwest Suburban High School District 214 in 2005.

"Rob Komosa awakened a sleeping giant of compassion and caring with thousands of people in the Northwest suburbs," Grossnickle said of the outpouring of support in the years after the accident.

In a 2009 interview with Daily Herald columnist Burt Constable near the 10th anniversary of his accident, Komosa said he was better off than other people with disabilities who don't have his financial wherewithal or support from friends, family and strangers. He said that while he never had a date with a girl, he did get to visit Poland, where his family is from, before his injury.

"I have a lot of mixed and different emotions, but for the most part I know you can't really control the world," Komosa told the Daily Herald at the time.

"I've had dreams of me driving, me in my wheelchair being half-paralyzed but half-able to do things on my own," he told Constable in 2009. "I've had dreams where I'm walking and still have the ventilator and the chair behind me. I wake up and see that I'm in my room still paralyzed, and wishing I could go back to my dreams."

Komosa's ability to persevere and inspire fueled the creation of The Gridiron Alliance, a charity dedicated to helping other injured athletes, which Grossnickle said was part of Komosa's legacy.

"He made a difference with his life, not as a person with a disability, but as a person with a mission," Grossnickle said of Komosa's and the Gridiron Alliance's quest to help other disabled athletes.

"Losing Rob in this fight just goes to show that when this happens to someone, we need help for the rest of our lives and it's not an easy life to live," said Kenneth Jennings, chairman of the Gridiron Alliance. "For his life to be gone at such a young age is a tragedy and not something we can continue to sit back and watch happen."

Grossnickle credited Komosa's positive spirit and his family's care and support for helping him beat the odds and live for more than 13 years after his accident.

"He never let his pain and agony show," Grossnickle said. "There is not one person who could ever say Rob Komosa complained. That's what was so magnetic about him -- his radiance, his smile and his strength."

Former Daily Herald reporter Erin Brooks said she was one of many to be moved by his story over the years.

"Rob's story was such a powerful force in my life. Being able to chronicle his triumphs in the aftermath of tragedy was a blessing for me, not just as a young reporter, but as a person," Brooks said. "He taught me -- and, I'm guessing, many others -- that the very things we take most for granted -- breathing air into our lungs, walking, running -- are the greatest gifts. His legacy will live on in all of us who were lucky enough to have our paths cross with his."

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