Chris Thompson, who was paralyzed while playing football for West Seattle High School in 1975 and was awarded $6.3 million in 1981 after filing a lawsuit against Seattle Public Schools, died from natural causes Monday in Seattle.

Thompson, who graduated from the University of Washington and owned horses that raced locally at Longacres in Renton and Emerald Downs in Auburn, was 62.

“He was absolutely to the core, a compassionate person,” said John Good, who first met Thompson at Madison Junior High in West Seattle. “His compassion really came out after his injury.”

Thompson was named athlete of the year at Madison as a ninth-grader, and was the starting halfback for the West Seattle High football team as a sophomore. He was racing toward the end zone when he collided with a pair of tacklers.

Thompson was unable to get up after suffering a spinal cord injury that left him quadriplegic. He was hospitalized for six months and eventually regained some use of his arms.

Good, a friend of Thompson’s since junior high, said Thompson was 100% paralyzed from the waist down and about 60% from the waist to the neck.

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Thompson sued the school district, contending that coaches had not instructed him to avoid running with his head lowered.

Good said Thompson negotiated a lower settlement after the district’s insurance company threatened to appeal the $6.3 million judgment.

But the ruling in Thompson’s favor helped paved the way for safety changes in the game.

Good said Thompson, who went on to earn a history degree at UW, was “a tremendous athlete.”

“He appeared to have a college, and maybe a major college (athletic) future if he hadn’t suffered his injury,” Good said.

Thompson became known as Mr. Inspiration to most of his West Seattle High School classmates, but was called “T-bone” by his closest friends.

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Thompson, who split time as an adult between the Los Angeles area and Seattle, got his first horse in 1985 when he claimed Reardan’s Gray at Longacres. 

“He dearly loved his horses,” Good said. “It was hard for Chris to get around, and when he went out, 99% of the time it was horse related: friends and family meeting him at the track or if they weren’t racing, he would visit his horses out at the barn.”

One of his top horses was Big Paz, who won 14 times, including a stakes race at Longacres and the Portland Meadows Mile. Big Paz won as a 10-year-old at Emerald Downs in 1996.

Thompson is survived by his wife, Cynda.

Good said Thompson exceeded his life expectancy after the injury by 15 to 20 years.

“What a testament to resiliency Chris was,” Good said. “He let (the injury) affect his life in the most intellectual way possible. ‘What do I do with myself now?’ It didn’t decrease his will to live and his will to be a great friend, a great brother. … I just hope I somehow conveyed what a tremendous person he was.”