When Chris Hendricks was young, doctors told him he would never walk. He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at age 4, a neurological condition that affects muscle function. The messages from his brain to his legs are disrupted, limiting his mobility.
Around the same time, Hendricks said, he began singing. It was a love of music that would never fade.
Hendricks tried leg braces and wheelchairs, “the whole nine yards,” he said, and was shuffled in and out of hospitals for much of his young life. Multiple operations kept him out of school for days or weeks, and when he returned, he was bullied.
Following his last operation, an infection further weakened his legs. The outlook seemed grim.
“Doctors didn’t think I could recover,” Hendricks said. “But it was my exercise and my time at Elon that changed that.”
Hendricks is a 2007 graduate of the university. During his first year, he met and befriended a football player who introduced him to weightlifting. He didn’t look back, and even majored in exercise and sport science. He lifted five or six days a week, putting on around 60 pounds of muscle by the time he graduated.
“College was a clean slate,” Hendricks said. “I made a promise to my dad to turn my life around.”
A self-described shy and lonely band geek, Hendricks transformed into an “almost annoying,” larger-than-life funnyman. At open mic nights, he would perform stand-up, laughing at his disability so others would feel comfortable. And after picking up a guitar during his junior year, he performed music whenever he could.
His band at Elon, The Rising, was more appropriately named than he realized at the time.
“It’s all about rising from the ashes,” Hendricks said, an echo of his own success and Elon’s emblematic phoenix.
After college, he moved to Orlando and worked at Disney World and Epcot in sales services. While in Florida, Hendricks started writing songs after again after a relationship ended painfully.
“I needed a way to let go,” he said. “Of that, and all of that other stuff like growing up in and out of hospitals. This was just a way to express that energy – not anger.”
Hendricks began performing at coffee shops and open mics after returning to his hometown of Durham. There, he met bandmate and manager Aaron Gallagher, and drummer Will Perrone joined shortly thereafter. The Chris Hendricks Band was formed, playing songs with positive messages while still delivering an energetic listening experience.
“I’ve always believed that music with a message doesn’t have to be bad,” Hendricks said. “You can write awesome music without writing about cheating on your girlfriend.”
The band most recently played a concert at Ligon Middle School in Raleigh. Playing to preteens may not be a rock god’s driving ambition, but Hendricks said he believes the band can do both.
“What kid doesn’t like rock n’ roll?” he said. “I 100 percent want to impact these kids. But we are still looking for a label. We want to make it big.”
Making it big won’t mean forgetting his roots, Hendricks said. His experience at Elon changed him. He helped organize benefits for Make-A-Wish, a charity he was not a part of but valued for its mission to help sick children, and bulked up physically at the gym.
“Elon is really kind of responsible for morphing me into the person I am today,” Hendricks said.