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After a life-changing gymnastics accident Brandon Beack says physical activity has helped rehabilitate himself, from a quadriplegic to a contender for the Paralympics.

At age 16, gymnast Brandon Beack was training for the Junior Olympics when a fluke accident saw him paralysed from the neck down. However, he was determined to not let the accident shape his life. 

Now, 26, Brandon, has helped transform the lives of people with physical disabilities through his Cape Town-based not-for-profit organisation that assists those in need with rehabilitation. He is also aiming to continue athletics as a Paralympic wheelchair racer.

Determination, grit and “pure stubbornness” have proved medical opinion that he’d require a lifelong caregiver wrong. Today Brandon has regained most of his upper body strength, is 100% independent and is proud to say he drives a car. The digital marketing student has a major goal too – to walk again and inspire others who’ve had to go through what he calls the “dehumanising experience of disability”.

A moment’s distraction changes Brandon’s life

Recalling his 2012 accident on the parallel bars, Brandon describes his near-fatal dismount as “a pure lapse in concentration” brought on by a combination of traumatic events. “My Godfather, and my dog, had died just days before. I was also staying up late at night after training to study for Grade 11 exams, My head was just not in the game. The Western Province trials were that Saturday, and I was nervous because I hadn’t done enough training. That day I felt very unsettled,” he says. He missed the safety mats and landed head-first on cement. 

“It felt like a shock wave through my entire body. My arms and neck were in immense pain and stinging and I couldn’t feel the rest of my body. Basically, I fractured my C6 and C7 vertebra,” he recalls.

The road to recovery, with Vitality 

Since his spinal fusion operation, Brandon’s level of function has improved dramatically, due to consistent, painstakingly disciplined exercise. He says Vitality has inspired him to maintain an active, healthy lifestyle, which in people with disabilities, helps to prevent hospitalisations and secondary complications.

“Vitality makes living a healthy lifestyle fun for me. By gamifying the act of healthy living, it motivates me to reach my weekly goals by offering valuable and practical rewards. As a person living with a disability, it is even more important to try to live an active life,” he says.  

Meanwhile, he’s developed and maintained another essential skill – a positive attitude. “It’s one simple outlook for me: you don’t know what you’re truly capable of until you put the work in. Becoming disabled is extremely dehumanising. Your independence is taken away, there are daily medical complications, you are reliant on others. Someone has to dress you. I wanted to change that and take control again, no matter how long it took,” says Brandon.  

He’s travelled to the United States to familiarise himself with some of the latest rehabilitation techniques and exercises. Now, he divides his time between training for the Paris Paralympics in 2024 and running the Walking with Brandon Foundation which helps people with rehabilitation. Established in 2019, Brandon and his family run The Therapy and Beyond Centre in Rondebosch, Cape Town.

Upping SAs rehab game as an insider

“When you leave inpatient rehab, it’s easy to feel hopeless. You’re sent home and become a burden to others and feel like an invalid. You can just wither away. Most people don’t know they can live a happy, prosperous and successful life, despite their disability,” Brandon says. 

“I want others to experience the level of rehabilitation that I have had. Peer support, counselling and motivation are crucial. We’ve changed the lives of over 200 people so far, all of whom have been exposed to different types of therapy. I want others to walk this journey with me. I’ve never given up on my dream of walking again and I want others to be by my side on this journey,” he says. 

The greatest irony is that his accident has brought him closer to his Olympic dream. Watch out, Paris Paralympics 2024. DM/ML

 

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