CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Many in the Mountain State know the legend of Willie Akers.
The Mullens native was a key teammate on the terrific WVU basketball teams during the Jerry West era. He's one of West's very best friends. After playing professionally for the ABA's Cleveland Pipers, Akers coached Logan High to four Class AAA titles over a 20-year span. He went into WVU's Hall of Fame in 1991. Of late, he's been operating Plaza Lanes bowling alley in Logan.
But what many in the Mountain State might not know is the legend is trying to defeat his toughest opponent ever: C-6 quadriplegia.
"I'm doing real well," Akers said from Atlanta on Tuesday. "I'm getting up and standing. I'm doing a lot of good things."
That, however, was the extent of the interview. He was off to five hours of therapy at Shepherd Center, a private non-profit hospital that specializes in spinal cord injury rehabilitation.
His wife, Linda, filled in the rest of the details. They're details that outline tragedy to one of the state's most beloved sports figures ever.
You might be aware he took a fall at the Civic Center, broke his nose and had a cervical fracture. You might even know he was in critical condition for a while at Charleston Area Medical Center.
The rest of the story, though, is one of heartbreak sprinkled with a dash of hope.
Akers was at Charleston's Civic Center around 10 a.m. on Feb. 13. Logan Middle School's team had just finished winning an unscheduled game.
Afterward, Akers congratulated his grandson, Will, then, according to the legend's wife, tripped on the edge of the court and pitched forward face-first. The grandson, an eighth-grade starter, watched in horror.
"Willie broke his C-6 vertebrae," Linda Akers said. "He had stenosis already compromising his spinal cord ... it was a whiplash thing. The doctors had to insert rods from C-3 to C-7 [vertebrae] to stabilize his neck. He was on a ventilator for a week.
"It was a scary time."
And the prognosis wasn't good. Akers is experiencing paralysis in all four limbs. C-6 quadriplegia patients, however, do experience some movement and can recover wrist recovery and perform tasks like upper- and lower-body dressing without assistance.
"His attitude is so good," Linda Akers said. "Sometimes I think he keeps me going more times than I keep him going."
She said a man, coincidentally named Will, who has similar injuries is a friend to Akers in the hospital gym.
"One day [Will] looked around," Linda said, "and told everyone, 'Hey! [Willie] is the oldest one here and doing better than any of us!' I think his coaching and athleticism helps."