Sports Illustrated readers have named the story of Rutgers University football player Eric LeGrand the Best Moment of 2011 in an online poll, the magazine reports.

A photo of LeGrand, in a motorized wheelchair leading the Scarlet Knights onto the field during a home game on Oct. 29 of this year amid a freak autumn snowstorm will grace the cover of the magazine’s year-end issue.

“So I left tire tracks in the snow yesterday as I led my team out next time will be footprints,” LeGrand said the next day on his Twitter account.

The tweet characterizes LeGrand’s indomitable will and determination and marks another landmark in what has been a miraculous recovery.

In October of 2010 LeGrand suffered catastrophic spinal cord damage and two fractured vertebrae in a game against Army. Doctors believed the defensive tackle, then a junior, would be paralyzed in his arms and legs and require a respirator for the rest of his life.

LeGrand defied explanation and medical science when he went off the respirator within weeks of his injury. Since then, LeGrand has walked with the help of a brace and is more determined than ever to regain the use of his legs.

The 2011 moments issue marks the first time Sports Illustrated has allowed readers to choose the cover. Readers were asked to choose from 15 moments selected by the magazine’s editors.

LeGrand garnered the most votes from fans in 178 countries and led more than 6,000 users to post comments on Facebook. The defensive lineman beat out soccer star Lionel Messi, surfer Kelly Slater and Yankees captain Derek Jeter.

Even New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie tweeted his support for LeGrand.

 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.