Injured Eagle Scout’s spirit, resolve sparkle

VINELAND – Quiet anticipation filled the social hall of Divine Mercy Parish as Eagle Scout Rob Coxe made his way to the podium. Coxe steadied himself and moved away from his walker. He stood tall and lifted his eyes from his notes.

This was the moment, the very public moment, when he could demonstrate the spirit and determination that drove him not just to become one of the 2 percent of Scouts who reach the rank of Eagle Scout, but also his resolve to beat the odds and recover from a serious car accident.

At his Eagle Court of Honor, held Saturday, March 26, Coxe deliberately and slowly delivered the traditional Scout response to a crowd of supporters. With bright eyes and gleeful inflections, he reminisced about the highlights of his Scout journey. He expressed gratitude to his family and to his Scout family. And he tried to explain how his Scouting experiences continue to influence him as he works to recover from the effects of a traumatic brain injury that left him in a coma for three months.

On this day of celebration, Coxe’s father, Robert, stood proud of his son’s achievements, his progress and his reliance on the tenets of Scouting to help him face the challenges that lay before him. Even so, the father of this Eagle Scout admitted that at first it seemed hopeless. “But we know that it takes faith to let God do God’s work,” he said.

The single-car accident occurred in the fall of 2009. Coxe was home, on a break from his first semester of college at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.

As word of the accident circulated, support and prayers came from family, friends and the parish community. Coxe and his family are members of Divine Mercy Parish. Coxe worshipped with his family at St. Francis of Assisi Church and was active in the parish youth group. He was an altar server for seven years.

Felicia Karalis, of St. Michael the Archangel Parish, Franklinville, learned about Coxe’s accident from her husband, Mark, who is a Scout leader of Coxe’s troop, BSA 108.

Karalis belongs to one of several teams of women from around the Camden Diocese who create prayer blankets for the sick and frail. “It’s one way to let people know that someone is praying for them,” she said, explaining her involvement in a knitting and prayer group.

Karalis said that Coxe was still in a coma when her blanket was blessed and brought to him. “After that, we were hesitant to ask about his condition,” Karalis said. Her prayers for him continued.

Just months before the accident, Coxe had graduated with honors from Millville High School. He had completed the work for his Eagle Scout project, refurbishing the basement of a women’s shelter for use as a laundry room. At college he was studying computer science.

Coxe doesn’t know what led to his car crash. But when he woke from his coma, he was faced with a harsh reality. “I couldn’t walk, talk or eat,” he told those gathered to honor him at the Eagle Scout ceremony.

Coxe said that he focused on the Scout oath. “I will keep myself physically strong,” he’d told himself. Now, after months of physical therapy, he credits the lessons learned from his Scout experience for giving him a framework to help set goals, to help him build his future.

In an interview after the Eagle ceremony, Coxe spoke briefly about the uncertainty of that future. “I don’t know where I’ll live, or what I will do.”

He said that he has hopes of continuing his studies someday, to pursue a career in computer technology. But for the immediate future, he clings to what he learned from his family. “I am alive. I can do little things. I can follow what my dad and mom always taught: to follow the Ten Commandments; to do the right things and to be a good person.”

In his Eagle Scout response, Coxe talked about how he tries to look at the “bigger picture.” He has taken on some service-oriented projects at the Voorhees Pediatric Facility, where he is recovering and receiving his therapies. “I do little things to help other people,” he explained, adding that this is something else that Scouting has instilled in him, that it is something he hopes he will always do.

Msgr. Victor Muro, pastor of Divine Mercy Parish, was among the community leaders, friends and family who attended the celebration to honor Eagle Scout Robert T. Coxe.

Msgr. Muro said that the Scout troop was a visible presence in the parish and in the community. “I know these boys. They are altar servers. Their families and their leaders are active in the parish.”

“But this Eagle Scout,” Msgr. Muro said, “he is an inspiration to all of us. To everybody.”

“It is in the simple things he is doing, the everyday things, that we see his spirit,” he said, adding that in a world where there is such selfishness, this one young man has not only taken on the challenges he’s been dealt, but has reached out to help others around him. “It’s beautiful,” Msgr. Muro said.

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