Groundbreaking another big step for Devon Gales, family

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See, we all can get along: At a very Georgia-themed ground-breaking, Devon Gales meets soon-to-be neighbor Jimmy Herrin, who obviously comes from the other side of the street. (Steve Hummer/Staff)

On Friday, at long last, the rain stopped. The clouds began to break. And the stranger sun introduced itself to a soggy development 60 miles north of Atlanta.

The symbolic value of the weather would not go to waste on those gathered to put a shovel in the ground and get a working start on the right thing.

Bryant Gantt, the Georgia Bulldogs’ director of player programs and one of the real constants since the day nearly three years ago when Devon Gales suffered a debilitating spinal injury in a game against Georgia, supplied the imagery.

“They say you can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Gantt said. “Well, right now the sun is shining, and that sun means something to us. It’s the light at the end of this tunnel.”

They don’t usually hold official groundbreakings for just another new home start-up. Those are usually reserved for big, highly anticipated community projects. This one qualified on that score, too, for the Georgia community is surely involved.

The Gales family took up five shovels Friday morning – each one bearing a letter: D-E-V-O-N – and ceremonially marked the start of construction on the long overdue home for the paralyzed former Southern player and his family.

The promise of a new, wheelchair-accessible home for Gales had been floated just months after he was injured on a kickoff return. Multiple fundraising efforts backed by Georgia, and one failed effort by an outside charitable agency followed. Time relentlessly passed and the Gales family seemed no closer to a home until the latest drive – see – was able to marry fundraising with donations from the local construction industry.

On Friday, the promise grew ribs. “Shoveling dirt, breaking ground, that was the best part,” said Gales’ mother, Tisha. “That added a little more reality to it.”

Considering the recent weather, it was more breaking mud than strictly breaking ground. But the movement of any earth – regardless of consistency – was a breakthrough. The lot, in the sprawling Traditions of Braselton development, was donated by former Georgia linebacker Whit Marshall. There’s a lengthy list of developers and others in the construction trades involved in the project.

Perseverance and gratitude were the themes of the day.

“It’s a blessing,” said Gales’ father, Donnie. All this time, he has continued working out of the former family home in Louisiana while his wife and three children relocated to the Atlanta area so that Devon could rehab at the Shepherd Center. With construction starting on a new place in Georgia, he’ll look to relocate his job with UPS sometime in the new year.

“I can’t thank people enough that this is all finally coming together,” Donnie said. “This is us, now. This is home.”

Devon continues to rehab, and plans for the new home feature an area where he can do much of his physical therapy without going downtown. While he has dealt with a prognosis of life in a wheelchair, that is not the message he is getting at home. “He is going to walk again – until the day I leave here, I’m going to believe that,” his father said.

“There’s a young man in this world who didn’t expect this, who didn’t ask for this, who was scared of this. But by the grace of God, he is overcoming this,” Gantt said.

Devon addressed a group of 50 or so that included some of his soon-to-be neighbors. Even one brave soul who drove into this decidedly Bulldog-centric gathering in a Georgia Tech-themed golf cart. “That’s OK. I’ll take anybody,” Devon said with a smile. Through this process, the Gales family has developed strong Bulldogs leanings.

A new, accessible house, Devon said, “will give me a lot more freedom than where I am now.” Soon, no more struggling to maneuver his chair over the carpet of the Lawrenceville home they’re currently renting.

“I’m grateful to have a place to call home,” he said.

And in conclusion, he added, “For everybody here I thank you and I love you and I’m happy to be your neighbor.”

According to the project builder, Mike Elrod of Currahee Homes, the family should be moving in their new home by next summer.