Pierre Gibbons is living by the motto: “The harder you work, the stronger you get.”
That philosophy has been put to the test over the past year for the 1980 Santa Fe High School graduate.
Almost 365 days have passed since Gibbons ran into a burning home in Baltimore on Sept. 23, 2019, to save an elderly woman, only to suffer burns over 70 percent of his body. After spending six weeks in a coma and another nine months recuperating from his injuries, Gibbons finally returned home to a hero’s welcome from neighbors, family and first responders in June.
The recognition continues next week when the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission awards Gibbons with the Carnegie Medal for his courageous act.
Created in 1904, the commission recognizes Americans and Canadians who perform extraordinary acts of heroism. It also provides financial assistance for those who are disabled or the dependents of those killed while performing their good deed. The organization has awarded more than 10,000 medals.
Gibbons, a member of the Demons 1979 championship football team, sometimes doesn’t feel like a hero. He continues his physical and occupational therapy to help strengthen his body, important after suffering a pair of strokes that left his lower left arm paralyzed while he fought for his life in the weeks after the incident.
“There is a lot of inner challenges,” Gibbons said. “There are days where I don’t feel like doing this [therapy]. Sometimes, I need to kick back. I need to rest.”
When his son, Jeremiah Gibbons, informed him of the Carnegie honor, however, the elder Gibbons finally had to face the fact that he is a hero.
“If Carnegie says it, then it must be true,” Pierre Gibbons said. “I was like, ‘OK, I’ll accept it now that they say so, since they are the highest court in the land for heroes.’ ”
But Gibbons recognizes his own heroes and offers his thanks to the people who have helped him. In particular, Gibbons credits his family for supporting him and pushing him through the rigors of rehabilitation.
Gibbons said he can move his left hand a little bit, which lends hope that he will be able to regain use of the arm. On Thursday, he rode the streets outside his brownstone home in Baltimore on his recumbent bicycle for almost 2 miles.
Tina Albrecht, a home health care worker who assists Gibbons in his home, said he did it in 17 minutes, which was a personal best. Gibbons credits Albrecht for immense emotional support.
Albrecht, though, said Gibbons is self-motivated, which helps in his recovery.
“He pushes himself,” Albrecht said. “He might complain a little bit about the exercise, but he is out there. And he appreciates this. It’s why he is going on his bike and trying to beat his records. It gives him a little competition and motivates him.”
Then there are his friends who keep in contact, especially his former football teammates. Gibbons rattled off a list of them who call him regularly: Jeff Apodaca, Randy Bertram, Bill Layden, Louis Briones and Frank Lucero.
Gibbons said Lucero even sent him some of the art that he makes.
“I posted some of my work on social media, and he said, ‘Hey, I want to buy that,’ ” Lucero said. “I told him, ‘Absolutely not. I’m not selling it to you. I’m giving it to you.’ When somebody is that much of a hero in my eyes, the least I can do is to do something that could give him a little love and some sort of spiritual help.”
Gibbons’ son, meanwhile, started a “Keep Fighting Pierre” Facebook page that has more than 1,500 members who can see his dad’s progress. One of the videos showed Pierre Gibbons accomplishing one of the goals he set when he left the hospital — to walk on his own, which he did Sept. 8. While an occupational therapist trailed him, Gibbons walked for about 30 seconds with the aid of a walker.
Albrecht said Gibbons has progressed to the point that he can walk down the stairs from his front door, although he needs someone behind him to help in case he falls.
“For the most part, it’s all him,” Albrecht said.
Gibbons, though, doesn’t take all the credit. He sees the people who have reached out to him and recognizes them for their efforts in helping.
“Regardless of all the stuff going on in the world, there are a lot of good people,” Gibbons said. “I just want to say that because I’ve had so many people help me along my journey that I just wanted to acknowledge the world.”
The world, for its part, wants to keep giving back.