Helena Magazine

The Power of Justus: How Helena’s Justus Edwards used strength, faith and determination to overcome a paralyzing spinal injury

Published 11:47 am Monday, April 11, 2022

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By Michelle Love

Justus Edwards stands outside his Helena home by his car, holding up some of the merchandise from his clothing line. It’s particularly extraordinary given three years ago, doctors told Justus he would likely never walk again.

Justus suffered a debilitating spinal cord injury playing football at Berry College, and the doctors told him he had less than a 20-percent chance of ever walking again.

Fast forward more than three years, a bright Monday morning in Helena, his hometown, Justus is now 21 and able to stand and even walk with the help of leg braces. This accomplishment is the result of what Justus calls a combination of God’s motivation and his own determination.

“Patience and consistency is key,” he said.

Patience and consistency: two things Justus learned growing up from watching his parents and that he has applied throughout his life. Growing up in Helena, he’s played football since he was 5, going on to play at Helena High School under football coach Watt Parker. He attended church every week with his family, and he spent his weekends with friends around town.

Justus went off to Berry College to play football on a scholarship in 2019, and said he was “a beast” on the field. He took his determination and ferocity to the field at every game, and looking forward, he felt he could only continue to rise in his career. On Sept. 22, 2018, Justus’s life changed in the blink of an eye.

“It was kind of like something out of a movie,” he said. “Down to that tackle, I actually wasn’t supposed to be in on that drive, but I was going so well. I told the other safety, ‘I’m on the fly right now so let me get it,’ so he let me in.”

After a particularly rough tackle, Justus remembers laying on the ground, trying to stand up and not being able to move below his torso.  He describes the experience, from the accident to being in the hospital, like an out-of-body experience.

Since his injury, Justus has devoted his life to not only proving the doctors’ prognosis wrong, but showing the world that miracles can happen. He threw himself into physical therapy with the conviction that he would not only walk again, but he would be able to walk onto the field where his life changed. A year to the day after his accident, Justus did just that. He took careful steps with the help of a walker across the turf, proving wrong the prognosis those doctors gave him a year prior.

Justus’s accomplishments don’t just stop there. The week of Feb. 21, Justus stood up for the first time without the use of his leg braces, a major feat that’s once again the result of dedication, hard work and God’s guidance. He’s set to have a book published in September 2022 called “Tackling Trials,” where he hopes to share his story in its entirety with the world.

He’s also started a clothing line called the Faith & Dedication collection, which is a series of T-shirts and hoodies with his own signature design emblazoned on the fabric. He said the collection represents his journey toward walking again.

In December 2020, Justus started his own foundation, titled The Just-Us Foundation, raising money on his Instagram through T-shirt sales and donations in order to support others with spinal cord injuries and their families. One of the key goals of the foundation is to help make sure patients and their families have the physical therapy and the equipment they need to aid in their recovery.

Justus said the foundation has already assisted seven families.

“We want to include and to help individuals in all aspects—spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically—to turn their dreams into reality,” he said. “Why not be that person that can help somebody else get back on their feet?”

The Helena community has been beside him every step of the way. Helena Middle School has donated a total of $2,000 to the Just-Us Foundation, and Justus said he’s been able to speak to the Helena football and baseball teams and in December 2021, he spoke to the middle school students.

“It’s been amazing,” he said.  “[The middle schoolers] really like the story, they really enjoyed it. They come up to me crying and I’m like, ‘Don’t cry, it’s just me!’ It just shows you can inspire any age, because you never know what kids are going through even at that age.”

Justus said he learned a lot from his time living in Helena, like learning who your real friends are and what he calls an “underdog mentality” of having to work for the things you want because nothing comes easy in life.

“In high school, I dealt with a lot,” Justus said. “My mom, she had kidney failure, so seeing her push through life having many death sentences and coming home to take care of her and then go to school, it was a lot on me.”

One day, Justus asked his mother if she was afraid to die.

She said, “No, because I know where I’m going.”

Justus said after that, he went up to his room to pray and decided to channel his energy into working out and playing football as a way to cope with everything going on in his life. The stress and worry he felt at home was channeled into his football career to make sure he secured his scholarship.

“Anything I needed to do to get that scholarship, that’s what I did,” he said. “All that stuff I was dealing with in life, whoever was on the other side of that football was getting it.”

Justus has applied that fighter mentality inside of him to every aspect of his life. He has never been one to cast an experience aside as “sometimes things just happen,” instead using his life experiences to motivate him to move forward.

He still holds the tape he wore on his wrist during that fateful game.  In the hospital after his accident, he told the doctors not to cut it off, but they did it and Justus taped it back together. He keeps it with him as a reminder to what he’s fighting for.

At the top, it has his favorite Bible scripture Proverbs 14:23, and next to that it reads “Show them all,’ which he said is to prove to everybody he is who he says he is. At the bottom, it has “Justus James Edwards SAA All Conference,” followed by “Prove it to yourself.”

The last phrase written is, “Thank you God,” something Justus says every day.

“After the accident, I looked at my coach and the first thing that came out of my mouth when they got me on the stretcher was, ‘God got me,’” he said. “I grew up around faith. I’ve seen my mom and my dad walk it out and live from day to day. Maybe I was learning a lesson that whole time, maybe I was in class the whole time and this was my time to take the test. Everybody goes through trials in their life. The question is are you going to be prepared for it?”

Through everything, Justus wants to inspire those around him who may not have the same hope that he had, because hope is everything.

“It’s been a journey, and that’s what keeps me going,” he said. “On days where I don’t feel like getting up, on the days it’s a hassle to get out of bed or I don’t want to be here anymore, I think about the people that are depending on me to make it. And that shows me it’s bigger than me. Life is bigger than you. What you go through, somebody out there needs to hear about it, they just need that little bit of hope.”

For more information on Justus and the Just-Us Foundation visit his Instagram @justus_e1. For the ITSJUSWORK Apparel visit @_jusworkapparel_ on Instagram and Jusworkapparelstore.com.