'I don't quit': Minneapolis North athlete thrives on the field while facing uphill battle off it

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(Photo: Janaye Johnson)

Sometimes you hear about someone’s challenges and it makes you look at your own life differently.

Taquarius Wair, better known as TQ, has endured physical trials unimaginable to most, but his inner strength is what really sets him apart.

At North High School in Minneapolis, 18-year-old TQ quietly fights an uphill battle every day to be just like everybody else.

“I refuse to be told I can’t do something,” TQ said. “You know, I’m gonna find a way to do that no matter what it takes.”

When TQ opens up a little, you will realize how exceptional he is.

“I’m strong. Most people they won’t be able to last in my life, you know?” he said. “If they was in my shoes, a lot of people wouldn’t. It’s hard every day, you know?”

It was March 22, 2005 when everything changed for TQ. 

“All I know is, one night, my life changed overnight,” TQ said.

TQ was 4 years old and it was the middle of the night. He remembers it was cold outside, but an electrical fire was sweeping through his house.

Wair’s mother ran three of her kids outside and went back for her 6 year old daughter. TQ ran in after her.

“Taquarius was actually in the room that was on fire,” said Shawne Wair, TQ’s mother. “And I couldn’t see him. I couldn’t see him I just heard him screaming, ‘Ahhhhh!’ and I just started talking to him, ‘Taquarius, follow my voice,’ and he followed my voice and he came to me.”

TQs 6-year-old sister died in the fire and half of his body was covered in burns. Doctors gave him a 20 percent chance to live, but he fought through those odds and, after years of enduring countless stares and surgeries, TQ discovered the one thing that made him feel whole again.

“People don’t look at me the same when I play sports,” TQ said. “I feel like, when I play sports, it’s a whole new different perspective you know than me just walking down the street or you just seeing me. But, when you see me on the field, on the court, anything I do, it’s like, wow.”

"You know some kids have those type of scars inside that we can't see,” said Coach Charles Adams. “So, I just seen a kid that had them outside but I knew that deep down underneath that that was something special about him."

Adams, North High School’s Football Coach, has known TQ since he was a little kid. Now, he’s a mentor.

“I seen days where it was other guys complaining and it was other guys hanging their heads low and he was picking them up,” Adams recalled.

Under Coach Adams, TQ has never missed a workout or a practice. His senior season, he racked up 50 tackles and five touchdowns. Now, his hard work is paying off. He is heading to college, where he’ll play football for Mesabi Range in Northern Minnesota.

“He told me he’s gonna make sure I go to college and nobody never said nothing like that to me, you know?” TQ said. “Nobody put that effort in, so, I respect that man, you know? Forever in my heart.”

It’s a step closer to his dream of playing in the NFL. A dream that felt even more real last year when Shaquem Griffin, who is an amputee, also with one hand, was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks.

“Everybody count me out,” TQ said. “And I come back every year and I show you and I don’t quit.”

When he does make it to the NFL, TQ says he’ll fulfill a promise to his mom, the woman whose voice he’s always followed, to give her the life she deserves.

“My mom, you know, she got…Like, this is why I do it. Whatever I do, I do it for her. She been through so much. So much. She lost a daughter. Her son got burned and everything I do is for her. Everything,” TQ said.

That is why TQ may never be just like everybody else, because he is extraordinary. He’s a fighter, determined to show us all what real strength looks like.

“I just gotta prove myself. I’ve been doing it all my life, so just know I’m gonna work hard and y’ll see me very soon. Very soon,” he said.

If you’d like to help TQ prepare for college, you can donate to his GoFundMe page.

The professional photographs you saw in this story were taken by Janaye Johnson, a local photographer who met TQ through a community mentoring program and offered to take photos of the team so they could share them on social media and feel a sense of pride.