Justin Pressley, a community advocate for the disabled in Gainesville and founder of the North Georgia Screamin’ Eagles power soccer team, died Friday. He was 46.
Pressley suffered a spinal cord injury in a motorcycle accident at age 16 that left him quadriplegic. He turned his disability into a quest to improve the lives of others facing similar challenges.
“He was a bright, happy, disabled person who just wanted things to be better. He never let that disability get him down,” his mother Vicki Pressley said Saturday, Aug. 4.
“He was a big influence in the disability world, but he also helped people who were down. He always had a positive attitude and he is going to be truly missed,” Pressley’s sister, Heather Holcombe, said.
His advocacy for disability rights began in the early 1990s with Adapt, the National Organization on Disability and as a Core Leader for Georgia for the National Participant Network.
He was active recently in other organizations as founder of the Georgia Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Trust Fund, and an officer with the Access Center for Independent Living and Access Hall County, Inc. He was a founding board member of Our Neighbor Inc. and served on the Georgia Advisory Committee to the United States Civil Rights Commission.
From better building access to employment opportunities, Pressley strived for the disabled “to be treated like everyone else,” his mother said.
“I think his goal was just to make everything better for those coming along behind him — for all the kids that were disabled — just make things easier and better for them,” Vicki Pressley said.
The Hall County native worked for the last 10 years in the banking industry. He served as a torch bearer for the 1996 Centennial Olympics.
Pressley began the Screamin’ Eagles in 2006, which allowed he and other athletes to compete in special wheelchairs in a version of soccer played on a basketball court. He was an official in the U.S. Power Soccer Association and the Georgia Games Power Soccer committee.
His family said he had fallen ill earlier this year.
“He just couldn’t get past all of that. I think the Lord needed him,” Vicki Pressley said.
He is survived by his parents, siblings and other family members.
Funeral services are scheduled for 1 p.m. Monday, Aug. 6, at Little & Davenport Funeral Home chapel in Gainesville, littledavenport.com. The family request donations in his memory to Access to a Better Tomorrow, 48 Sweet Meadow Court, Cleveland, GA. 30528.