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Putting Adversity On Ice

It's been just over two years since 36-year-old Scott Brandon became a paraplegic. After going through all the natural adjustments and emotions such a life-changing experience brings, he has neither the time nor inclination to wallow in self-pity. He's too busy being a single father to two sons, working as general manager of sales and marketing for an adaptive mobility company, speaking at schools, and playing goaltender for the U.S. sled hockey national team.

Brandon's life changed on September 10, 2002. He was on a ladder trimming a tree when he fell 15 feet to the driveway, landing flat on his back. The fall caused burst fractures in several vertebrae, resulting in paraplegia. In the months of recovery and rehabilitation that followed, Brandon realized giving up wasn't an option; his two boys, 11-year-old Scott and six-year-old Trevor, depended on him.

"If I couldn't find the strength within myself to recover, I knew I must do it for them," Brandon recalls. "They needed their father back to as close to normal as possible, and quick."

Following the accident, Brandon, a native of St. Louis, was sent to DePaul Hospital, where neurosurgeon Dr. Danial Scodary implanted titanium rods in his spine. He was then transferred to St. Johns Mercy for more surgery and rehabilitation. After a month of rehab, Brandon underwent five more months of out-patient therapy three times a week. He has developed a close relationship with his doctors, particularly Scodary.

"I owe a lot to him," Brandon says. "He has been a godsend to myself and my family."

Less than a month after his injury, Brandon, who had played roller blade hockey for years, was introduced to sled hockey by his physical therapist, Kathy Griffith. Invented at a rehabilitation center in Sweden in the 1960's, sled hockey became a Paralympic sport in the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer. Players sit in specially designed sleds placed on top of two hockey skate blades, and the puck must be passed underneath the sled.

After watching the U.S. Paralympic team play a game, Brandon met several of the players, and was deeply moved by the experience.

"It was there that I created a new cast of heroes," he says. "Here was a bunch of guys that have all overcome horrible injuries of their own, and went on to play for their country and win a gold medal in Salt Lake City at the 2002 Paralympics."

Once he was cleared by his doctors, Brandon played one season for a team called the RIC Blackhawks before being invited to the U.S. Team tryouts this past August in Colorado Springs. After five days of tryouts, he made the team as a goaltender.

But other challenges lay ahead. When Brandon discovered that his boys were being ridiculed at school because of his wheelchair, he realized how important it was to show others that disabled people could lead productive lives. He began speaking at grade schools, demonstrating how he uses his wheelchair to go up and down stairs, play sports, and do many of the things everyone else does, with some modifications. He shows kids his Ford pickup equipped with a special seat, wheelchair lift, and remote control power topper.

Brandon is amazed at how much of a difference these brief encounters can make in changing the way kids think about people in wheelchairs. "Their first reaction is that they are a little unsure, only because they just don't know we are typically normal people who have suffered injuries," he explains. "They have no idea we were just like their moms and dads before. But after an hour of questions and answers, and discussing all of the great things we can still do, they offer to push me, open doors, carry my things to the truck, anything to be involved."

Kids aren't the only ones affected by Brandon's courage and positive outlook. His friends and family have been with him every step of the way the past two years, and are proud of what he has overcome. His mother, Carol Halloran Ferguson, isn't at all surprised at her son's resolve.

"It never occured to him to set limits. He never has," she says. "Scott still has that twinkle in his eye and the good nature and easy grin. "He is still a loving father, son, brother and friend, facing the same daily struggles and joys as every other person."

Brandon hopes to lead his sled hockey team to a gold medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, and to find that special someone to share his struggles and triumphs with. His biggest goal, though, is to be the kind of dad his sons can look up to and be proud of. With all he has overcome to this point, there is no doubt he has already gone a long way to accomplish that.

Find out more information about the sport of sled hocky by visiting: http://www.usahockey.com/ussha/main_site/main/what_is///

About The Author

Stephen Michael Kerr

To read more fascinating articles about adaptive sports for people with disabilities, subscribe to Adaptive Sports & Recreation, the free ezine published every other Wednesday. Just send a blank email to: 41809-subscribe@zinester.com. Or, visit the official Adaptive Sports & Recreation website at: http://www.adaptivesports.afreepress.com.

stevekerr@ev1.net

Stephen Michael Kerr