J.T. Townsend smiled. That is what everyone will tell you today. J.T. always smiled.
"J.T. is gone." It is difficult to write this this morning. How do you write about a teammate, classmate, and friend that has passed too early? How do you write about someone that you remember as if it were yesterday walking and smiling with you during school not even a decade ago? I write this today not by feeling pain, but feeling joy that I have a chance to tell you all about a man that has touched the lives of all that he met. A man whose spirit and character inspired so many in our community.
"Something happened to J.T." The day after the 'Incident' was a surreal one. Many of us had visited J.T.'s family at the hospital the night before and we all walked around as if in a haze. We all thought the worst. Episcopal is a relatively small school, and in such a small community the concussive effects of traumatic events are felt even stronger. Those days right after the incident were trying. Many of us prayed. All of us waited.
J.T. recovered. Though he was no longer to walk or move around on his own, he was determined to graduate with our class. When J.T. first came back to campus, cheers erupted. Though he was bound in his chair, he still smiled and told us that he would graduate with us. J.T. could have easily taken his time to recover, but his determination to graduate and his will to not let his disability encumber his life pushed him to exceed the expectations of all.
J.T. graduated. The day that J.T. graduated from Episcopal High School is a day that I will never forget for as long as I live. I will probably forget about my walk to get my diploma. I will probably forget about how hot it felt sitting in a cap and gown in the Florida heat. I already forgot who spoke and what they spoke about during the graduation ceremonies. I will never forget the joy and elation we as a community felt when J.T. received his diploma that day.
J.T. thrived. After graduating from Episcopal, J.T. went on to touch more than just our small community. He went on to start the JT Townsend Foundation, which betters the lives of others with disabilities. J.T. went on graduate from the University of North Florida in May. We know all this because others have seen what J.T. has done and have vehemently tried to tell his story. We are all grateful for this. We have seen J.T. in the media, posing with celebrities and athletes. We have seen him at events raising money for others. We have seen him continue to live his life regardless of the circumstances dealt to him.
Let me tell you about the J.T. I know. J.T. was a gifted athlete. Episcopal High School in my day wasn't exactly an athletic powerhouse, but we all knew J.T. was special. Mainly a basketball player, J.T. had just began to tap into his potential as a football player right before the incident took place. J.T. was a huge sports fan. He loved and followed all sports and was a huge Jaguars fan. Many Jaguars have embraced him and have become friends of J.T. J.T. was funny. J.T. could talk shit with the best of them. Amongst a class filled with clowns and smart alecks, J.T. held his own and always knew how to deal jokes. J.T. smiled. You're probably going to hear this from everyone speaking about J.T., but J.T. always had a smile on his face regardless of the circumstances. J.T. never let anyone know whether he felt sorry for himself, that he was struggling, or that he didn't want to go on. J.T. strove to succeed regardless of what was dealt to him.
J.T. is a better man those most I know. With his passing I'm reminded that we all often take things for granted. J.T. went through life with a smile on his face. If we all do the same, the world would be a better place.
I'm going to miss you buddy.