Tai Cleveland: An Athlete Restored

Gunnery Sergeant, U.S. Marine Corps Veteran

Before my accident I was very athletic. Every day I ran, played basketball, lifted weights.

In August 2003, Tai Cleveland’s life was altered substantially. “Before my accident I was very athletic, enjoying all physical activities. Every day I ran 8 to 10 miles, played basketball, lifted weights—anything physical, I was involved in it,” he said.

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While participating in a hand-to-hand combat training course in Kuwait, Tai was flipped onto his back, injuring his head and multiple vertebrae. As a result, Tai is paraplegic from spinal cord injury at the T6-T11 levels. He suffers from chronic neuropathic pain, spasticity, and traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Initially I was told that I would walk again in two weeks, and for over a year I charted and anticipated walking again.

But when that did not happen, Tai became disheartened and began to experience depression. His wife, Robin, wanted to help ease him out of his funk, and she began researching programs and organizations that could help him.

An athlete restored. Advice about the joys of bass fishing.

In 2004 she (Robin) contacted Paralyzed Veterans of America and requested information about membership and benefits. Tai became a member of the Virginia Mid-Atlantic Chapter and began to learn how Paralyzed Veterans was able to help him.

Aside from helping him file for and receive housing and auto grants, Tai was able to regain a part of his life—athletics. “It took a while, but my first activity was billiards with PVA. In between surgeries and rehab, eventually I learned to waterski, went to and medaled at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, and then fishing,” he said.

Bass fishing teaches you how to be patient and how to relax. It offers amazing friendship and fellowship.

Robin continued to encourage Tai to participate in other activities. He was reluctant at first but finally took part in the PVA Bass Tour. “Bass fishing offers so many intangibles. I think that if newcomers would just open up their mind to the possibilities, they will be amazed,” Tai said. “Bass fishing teaches you how to be patient and how to relax. It offers amazing friendship and fellowship. It is a sport that offers all the same rewards as the other visibly physical sports and has the added benefit of allowing time for reflection.”

Tai is always eager to join the bass tours and looks forward to the fishing season. He said that there is a great balance to be experienced between the serenity and calmness and the adrenaline rush of pulling in that catch that is just unmatched. His bass fishing experience has added greater meaning and an ever-richer dimension to his life.

Moving beyond depression. Moving toward possibilities.

Despite his injury, Tai has been able to move beyond the depression and embark on new possibilities of career options. In 2008, accompanied by his daughter Rudi, he participated in a 10-week training program that would help land him a job in the film industry. During this program Tai learned the ins and outs of the industry and how to digitally edit film. He considers the film industry “a way for me to take back as head of the household with a career that I can do from a wheelchair.” In the future he plans to put a production studio in his home and work on a business plan.

Tai joined the U.S. Marine Corps in August of 1983 on the delayed entry program and served as a gunnery sergeant until he was medically retired in January 2007. Currently, Tai and Robin reside in Montclair, Virginia.