On a bright spring day, in a light-filled church on a quiet Mount Prospect street, family and friends gathered to bid farewell to Rob Komosa, a man who served as an inspiration to others and who loved ones say exemplified a life well lived.
"My brother wasn't one in a million; he was one of a kind," said a tearful Ann Phister, describing her older brother in an eulogy she delivered to more than 100 mourners Saturday at St. Thomas Becket Church.
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Komosa was 17 when he suffered a life-altering injury after a teammate tackled him headfirst a sideline post during football practice at Rolling Meadows High School on Oct. 6, 1999. The accident left him paralyzed from the neck down and breathing through a ventilator.
Komosa died last Saturday from respiratory failure at age 30. He left behind his mother and devoted caretaker Barbara, his sister and brother in law and many friends, among them Tim Guza, of Arlington Heights.
Guza spoke of their 27-year friendship and the "neighborhood shenanigans" they committed as children, which included dropping M-80 firecrackers down a sewer at 3 a.m. Guza also described a time Komosa fell when he went off-roading in his wheelchair on his Barrington Hills property. Komosa was fine, but joked that his wheelchair was embarrassed, Guza recalled.
The event that changed Komosa's life didn't alter his personality, Guza said, explaining that Komosa post accident was the same joyful, silly, kind and generous person he was before.
Komosa's upbeat attitude and hopefulness inspired thousands of people. As co-founder of The Gridiron Alliance, a charity assisting young athletes with catastrophic injuries, he raised funds for and met with other seriously injured athletes.
Sports remained a passion, along with politics, Guza said of his friend who enjoyed the occasional gin and tonic, watching the sun rise, and the sound of Guza's car peeling out of the driveway after a visit, Guza said.
A longtime Chicago White Sox fan, Komosa always rooted for the underdog said Phister.
"I think it was because Rob was an underdog himself," she said.
Reve. Ed Panek officiated at the 90-minute, English and Polish ceremony during which he praised Komosa's courage, faith, service and his deep appreciation for life.
"Accidents happen to us and things change in drastic ways," Panek said. "We are called to serve in ways we can't imagine."
"Rob found a way to serve others," Panek said, serving as a witness to his faith and "in a unique way, to the goodness of God in his life."
In facing such tough odds, Komosa showed us we should not "be paralyzed by fear but have the strength and courage to overcome" obstacles, Panek said.
"His sense of dignity and the grace he showed is (a lesson) I take to my own heart," Panek said.
"Amazing Grace," echoed through the church as pallbearers escorted Komosa to the waiting hearse.
As mourners filed out of the church, Komosa's cousin Charles Komosa of Chicago reflected on all Rob endured.
The daily problems people face "are insignificant compared to what Rob went through on a daily basis with a smile on his face," Charles Komosa said. He said he told his young son before the service, "Rob's in a better place now. He's in the end zone of heaven."