After accident left him paralyzed, former Illini Bobby Roundtree fights to walk again


Every push has a purpose. Every movement a motivation. Every extra rep a reason.

Bobby Rountree’s mission has changed but the work never stopped.

“I just got to keep the same mindset even if not working out to get to NFL right now, it’s getting back to old me,” Roundtree said. “Knowing it’s going to be ups and downs and knowing it’ll be a long journey, it still motivates me.”

Eighteen months removed from the injury that changed his life, the former Fighting Illini defensive lineman is fighting for his freedom and determined to walk again.

“I just think about when I get back on my feet, independent again,” Roundtree said from his home in Clearwater, FL. “What I want in the future. What it may hold for me.”

Roundtree’s future was once filled with dreams of the NFL. In 2018 as a sophomore, he won the Illini’s top defensive player award–leading the team in sacks, tackles for a loss, and passes broken up.

That future was put on hold the night of May 18, 2019. Roundtree suffered a spinal cord injury during a swimming accident in Florida — paralyzing him from the chest down.

“When I did see him (in the hospital), he told me don’t cry over me, told me be okay,” Roundtree’s mom Jill Hearns said.

After the injury, Roundtree went from 255 pounds – down to 170 pounds.

“I didn’t know how skinny I was until one day I took the (hospital) covers off my legs, seen my legs and it broke me,” Roundtree said. “It did something to me and made me want to take off and get back to my old self.”

Seven months at the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab in Chicago built back his strength, followed by intense physical therapy five days a week at Barwis Methods in Port St. Lucie, FL.

“Some days you feel more, some you don’t,” Roundtree said about his rehab. “I feel I’m still getting stronger and feeling more on the lower half of my body. I’m thankful I’m able to keep working out.”

His mom Jill has been there every step of the way as Roundtree’s fulltime caregiver.

“He pushes himself so hard, sometimes I wish he’ll slow down, but he won’t and I love him,” Hearns said.

“She put down everything to come be with me,” Roundtree said of his mom, who stopped working as a certified medical assistant to care for him. “Too many words can describe her, and I’m very blessed to have her.”

Roundtree is still on scholarship at Illinois and taking classes. He watches his former teammates play from his home in Clearwater, with mixed emotions. He hasn’t been back to campus this fall because of Covid-19, but last season the team honored him during their home finale.

“It was excitement but also sad because I probably would’ve made a difference out there (on the field),” Roundtree reflected. “It was lot of emotions, but I would do it again. It was fun.”

Roundtree used to play every snap like he had something to prove. Now, he’s out to prove his injury won’t define him.

“I just want more people to know my story and where I come from, where I was and what my original plans were to end, and just want to show this accident didn’t knock me off the map.”

A new goal, with the same hunger to achieve it.

The Illinois Athletic Department set up a GoFundMe that raised over $133,000 for Roundtree’s medical care.

His mom Jill has organized a second Go Fund Me for his physical therapy costs.

To donate, visit “Year 2 Bobby Roundtree” on GoFundMe.Com


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