Cooper Roberts left Halas Hall Wednesday afternoon with a huge smile on his face, a wheelchair that can navigate sand and a whole bunch of new friends.
Almost a year ago, the eight-year-old boy was shot in the back by a gunman who killed seven people and injured dozens at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park. Cooper's mother, Keely, was shot in the leg, and his twin brother, Luke, was hit by shrapnel.
Cooper was the most seriously injured of the three, paralyzed from the waist down when one of the bullets severed his spinal cord. He is in a wheelchair but hopes to walk again someday. He attends school as much as possible and undergoes some sort of rehabilitation at a Shirley Ryan Ability Lab every day.
Cooper loves swimming—he competes for an adaptive swim team at Shirley Ryan—and visiting the beach. But his regular wheelchair would get stuck in the sand. That's where the Bears and "Devices 4 the Disabled" joined forces Wednesday at Halas Hall to present Cooper with a wheelchair specifically made for the sand.
The Roberts family was surprised by the gift after practice, surrounded by Bears general manager Ryan Poles, coach Matt Eberflus and dozens of players, including quarterback Justin Fields, who pushed Cooper in his wheelchair.
"I feel like I am a really hard person to surprise," Keely said. "But I did not see that coming. I had no idea. That was a huge surprise. It's been a huge need.
"It was such an unbelievably not just generous but really thoughtful gesture, and I think that's probably why it was so emotional for us. It wasn't just about them giving Cooper and our family this huge gift, it was about a gift so meaningful and so thoughtful for Cooper.
"He loves to swim; it's something he enjoys. He loves to just be at the beach. It's a passion of his. Getting to the beach, getting down into the sand, it's impossible to do in his regular wheelchair. It's absolutely impossible. It's one of those things that as a family we never would have been able to really help Cooper with without the use of a beach wheelchair."
Cooper's father, Jason, and sister, Emily, were also at Halas Hall Wednesday.
Devices 4 the Disabled has assisted the Roberts family over the last several months. The organization was the Bears' 2020 Community All-Pros winner of a $101,000 grant. It collects and redistributes wheelchairs, hospital beds, walkers and other medical equipment to those in need in the Chicago area. Bob Shea, a co-founder of Devices 4 the Disabled, was also on hand Wednesday at Halas Hall.
The Roberts family was grateful and appreciative not only for the wheelchair but for how Bears players interacted with Cooper and his twin brother, Luke, on a warm day in Lake Forest.
"We watched everyone freely, happily and joyfully engage with him and make sure that Cooper and Luke both knew that they are in this with him," Keely said, "that everyone's in this fight with you, that everyone wants to see you happy, doing the things that you love to do. That's why today was so special. Cooper felt like those guys on the team genuinely cared about him. We left today blown away, completely blown away."
Keely revealed that Cooper was ecstatic on the car ride home.
"Every time we tried to talk about it, he would start to laugh, and he would start to tear up," she said. "He would say, 'Mom, I have my own beach wheelchair and the Bears gave it to me!' I was like, 'I know, buddy.' He'd say, 'Did you see Justin pushing me? Did you get pictures? I can't wait to tell my friends. I'm going to tell all my friends about it.'"
Keely joked that some Bears players may soon be receiving birthday party invitations from Cooper.
"He left there today believing that the Bears players are his friends," she said. "He believes that, and that means something to him, it means something to all of us. Cooper is bolstered by that … It means a lot to me that the players took the time, especially after practice on such a warm day. They didn't just begrudgingly show up. None of them had to do that. They were so engaged and so kind and so loving towards our boys and showed them such support. It meant the world to us."