Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

African Week celebrates unity and tradition on campus
African Week celebrates unity and tradition on campus
By Annalise Schmidt, News Reporter • February 21, 2024

This week unfolds as a testament to diversity within the African continent and a call to recognize its contributions to the global community,...

WPOW! Women photojournalists featured in Sharp Museum 
WPOW! Women photojournalists featured in Sharp Museum 
By Annalise SchmidtFebruary 21, 2024

The Women Photojournalists of Washington (WPOW) marks its 16th Annual Photography and Multimedia Exhibition this year, shining a spotlight on...

A building in the middle of construction within the Arbor District that is on West Cherry Street in Carbondale, IL. The building has caution tape surrounding the front of it. February 17th, 2024
@SimShardPhotography
Arbor District residents take a stand against slumlords at city council meeting
By Jamilah Lewis, Sports Editor • February 21, 2024

Social media in the Carbondale area is often flooded with complaints about landlords and housing units with mold, falling fixtures and even,...

Bill’s Story: Saluki football alum who lost legs hopes to walk at next Homecoming

Bill%E2%80%99s+Story%3A+Saluki+football+alum+who+lost+legs+hopes+to+walk+at+next+Homecoming

On Nov. 21, Bill Story turned 72 years old. He played football for the Salukis from 1970-74 and later played professionally for the Kansas City Chiefs. He is also a diabetic, and both of his legs are amputated above the knee. He has dealt with countless injuries, including back issues and a ruptured Achilles. But he has not accepted a wheelchair and doesn’t plan on doing so.

“Well one, a wheelchair hurts my butt,” Story laughed. “…I just believed that if I stick with it, something will get better.”

One of Story’s teammates from Southern, Tom Laputka, said Story’s reaction to these things is not surprising.

Advertisement

“It’s not going to get him down…here’s a guy that’s in his 70s, lost both his legs above the knee and he said, ‘Tom, if I ever sat down in one of those fancy wheelchairs, I’d probably never get up, but I’m not going to do that,’” Laputka said.

Story doesn’t have plans of running a marathon or taking a stroll around Campus Lake, but he does want to walk at SIU’s 2024 Homecoming game with the aid of his prosthetic legs. Laputka said he would go to the extremes to watch that moment.

“I would love to see him do that. I’d hitchhike out there just to see it,” he said.

Story is from Melrose, Tennessee, and was a part of a group of guys from the Memphis area who were recruited to the Salukis during that period. Another teammate of his, Jerry Hardaway, is also from the region and is the same age. When he heard about what was occurring in Story’s life, it gave him an opportunity to look in the mirror.

“Total shock. Saying, ‘this can’t be happening to my brother…all right, I better make sure that my blood pressure is stable, make sure that my sugar level is stable, make sure that now I start trying to eat and stay healthy, you know to counter that stuff,’” Hardaway said. “If it could happen to him, what’s it to keep it from happening to me?”

Even though it happened to Story, his desire to keep pushing forward is notable. Another one of his Saluki teammates, Bob Thomure, notices Story’s impact from afar.

“It’d be simple to say, ‘I’ve had enough’,” Thomure said.

Advertisement*

Story was an offensive tackle and was on the practice squad with the Chiefs before logging official service with them in 1975 and later venturing into Canada with the Edmonton Eskimos. After getting into teaching momentarily, he went on to work in the restaurant business for 37 years.

In August 2005, Story went under the knife for a ruptured Achilles. But the surgery was botched, and the Achilles area became infected. The infection spread throughout his body, and he was later diagnosed with a staph infection in his back.

It led to back pain so severe that it would take Story an hour and a half just to get out of bed. Around 2008, he got a procedure to amputate his right leg after he struggled to be upright.

“I was concerned about what was going on because I couldn’t stand up straight when the spinal cord and the nerve damage got so bad, I started to collapse,” Story said.

He was on crutches before needing to get his right leg amputated again. Initially, the plan was to take off an inch off the limb every so often, but Story decided to simply get an above-the-knee procedure in 2021. The next year, the same was done to his left leg. As difficult as these health problems were to deal with, Story continued to try to overcome them.

“My whole thing was regardless of what happened, I was going to do something,” Story said. “One, get through it and two, make it better.”

Story said he asked a physical therapist if he would make it out of the rehab center after losing his second leg. She told him no; it would be too much of a challenge. But he disregarded it, and after two and a half years in rehab, Story made it out of the center this past September.

“My whole thing was, that’s not gonna be the case, I had to get out,” Story said.

Walking on prosthetics was a complete learning process for him and Story compared it to walking on steps or having your feet on two different swinging ladders. It also adds preparation time for simple tasks that most people don’t think twice about.

“You get ready to get up to the kitchen or the bathroom, you guys get up and go,” Story said. “I got to make sure I got the computers turned on the prosthetic, the wheels are locked, the walker I’m going to pull up on is locked, and the wheels on the wheelchair are turned backward…”

It is a constant balancing act and that makes life more challenging, but Story handles it with grace and positivity.

Hardaway said, “It didn’t stop him. He said, ‘Okay, this is not a setback, this is another door. This is not a door that’s closed, here’s another door that’s open. It wasn’t a thing of woe is thou. I’ll pass this too, you know.”

When Story played at SIU, he was regarded as a leader for the team. Different issues arose at the time, such as coach Richard Towers not wanting Black players to have mustaches or White players to have sideburns, as well as the ongoing Vietnam War, but Story was always in the middle of bringing the team together.

“Story was considered our spokesman… He was our sounding board that Coach Towers would call in to say, alright what are them guys out there thinking?” Hardaway said.

No matter what the situation was, Story simply wanted to bring people together in those times of distress.

“There was so much stuff going on, you just tried to hold everybody together,” Story said.

He has held himself together quite well over the years, but Story isn’t persevering solely on his own personal strength and will, he trusts in his faith, and it has been a major contributor for him to keep going. He has been a member of a church in the Memphis area for almost 25 years.

“This church made me a better person, I’ve been to churches…and if nothing changes, you just wasted your time. So I finally got somewhere where it caused me to make some changes,” Story said.

Along with having a competitive nature and drive that a lot of people don’t have, Thomure said he can see where Story’s belief drives him as well.

“He’s a real strong Christian, real strong. He’s a man of faith and he believes in that, and I think that helps him,” he said.

When Laputka recently visited Story at an assisted living facility, Story went down to the main lobby where there was tile flooring. The apartments and hallways on higher floors are carpeted which makes walking on prosthetics even more difficult. But when the two went down to do their walking routine, they captured a crowd of onlookers.

“You should have seen the audience. People were paying attention, they were moving over and sitting down, watching the whole thing take place, and for all intents and purposes, you know, inspired by that,” Laputka said. “And that was the key, is that Billy is a sort of an exuding inspiration to those around him.”

Story has lived in Gainesville, Florida, for the past several years and rehabbed at Palm Green Rehabilitation Center. During rehab, Director Lynn Stuart was a huge contributor to Story improving with his prosthetics. He then moved to the Holiday Atrium Retirement Center where general manager Marissa Vazquez was to aid Story and continue his road of recovery.

These women have given Story everything necessary to improve while supporting and encouraging him through rehab.

“Both of these ladies are and have been my blood and lifeline throughout this long journey,” Story said. “…I’m paying tribute to people who furthered my life.”

Story has two sons, three granddaughters and four grandsons, and says it would mean a lot for them to see him walk at an SIU Homecoming game. But Story’s everlasting push to keep moving forward would mean more for others even beyond his immediate family.

“Everything that they would throw at me, I was determined to do it or make it better, and that’s been my whole attitude through it all,” Story said.

Hardaway referenced the ending moments of Dr. Martin Luther King’s ‘What Is Your Life’s Blueprint’ speech where King quoted Langston Hughes. ‘If you can’t fly, run. If you can’t run, walk, if you can’t walk, crawl but by all means, keep moving.’ Hardaway said this encapsulates Story’s determination.

“That’s gonna be telling you about Bill Story. He’s a fighter, man,” he said.

Sports reporter Howard Woodard can be reached at [email protected]. To stay up to date on all your Southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  

Advertisement

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Daily Egyptian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *