Sean Spence: 'My faith and courage was tested'

Steelers LB Sean Spence received the Ed Block Courage Award on Tuesday.

Courage. It’s defined as “strength in the face of pain or grief,” but also in the actions of those who possess it. Courage is never quitting. It’s never giving up, never losing hope, even when others around you might have doubts.

Courage is working out on your own, day after day, to achieve a dream that seems so out of reach.

Courage is believing, when others don’t. It’s having faith, when nobody else does.

Courage is what makes Sean Spence’s heart beat. It’s what makes him tick. It’s what makes him a linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers. And it’s what makes him the team’s 2014 Ed Block Courage Award recipient, presented annually to a Steelers player who has fought back from an injury or tough circumstances to return to the field.

Spence was presented with the award by Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin on Tuesday at the 22nd Annual Arthur J. Rooney, Sr. Courage House Luncheon at Heinz Field, benefiting Holy Family Institute. Maryana Stern, a Holy Family Alumni, was also honored at the luncheon.

It was emotional for Spence, who was unable to hold back the tears as he thanked the Steelers athletic trainers and strength and conditioning staff who were there with him every step of the way.

“It feels great to win it. It’s a blessing,” said Spence. “I think my faith and courage was tested over these past two years with what I was going through and being away from football for two seasons. It showed patience and continuing to work no matter what others thought the outlook was like. It’s been a long road, but I enjoyed the journey.”

Spence suffered what many thought was a career-ending knee injury on August 30, 2012. He could have easily thrown in the towel, given up on any type of comeback with the severity of the injury. But to know Spence is to know that he is not a quitter. That word doesn’t even exist in his vocabulary.

“This was a catastrophic injury, probably one of the most gruesome injuries that I have seen in person, and I have been around football all of my adult life,” said Tomlin. “He was presented with a unique challenge. It goes beyond the fact that he worked hard and was able to return and play for us. It’s the spirit in which he did it that left an indelible mark on me and his teammates.

“Sean didn’t have a bad day. Rehab can be lonely, it can be painful, challenging mentally and physically and it can create a distance for guys going through it. They separate themselves from the pack, can be scarce. This guy didn’t do that. He was there every day, he was there early, late and always had a smile on his face. It’s just amazing. His spirit is something we all feed off of. I have a great deal of respect for this young man.’

Spence missed the entire 2012 season and part of the 2013 season with the injury.  He spent almost every waking moment at the team’s practice facility working to get back on the field and after what seemed like an eternity, was cleared to practice again in October, 2013. While the knee felt good, he suffered a finger injury after returning to practice that required surgery and was out for the rest of the season.

Spence, the Steelers’ third-round draft pick in 2012 out of Miami, faced bumps in the road, there were discouraging moments, and there were tears. But Spence fought through it all and a little over two years after suffering the injury, he saw his dream come true when he started at linebacker against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Heinz Field.

“I think Sean Spence is the most deserving guy of this award since I have been here,” said tight end Heath Miller, who won the award last year. “Everyone on the team was as happy as he was to see him back on the field this season. We all know what he went through, we all saw the ups and downs.

“It’s a compliment to him, his character, perseverance and hard work. Everything good you can say about someone he encompasses it. Whenever I see him on the field I am smiling from ear to ear because I know how much it means to him and how much work he put into it.”

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