SPEAK OUT! Faces of Brain Injury Frank Bruno (survivor)
Donna O’Donnell Figurski
Brain Injury is NOT Discriminating!
It can happen to anyone, anytime, . . . and anywhere.
The Brain Trauma Foundation states that there are 5.3 million people in the United States living with some form of brain injury.
On “Faces of Brain Injury,” you will meet survivors living with brain injury. I hope that their stories will help you to understand the serious implications and complications of brain injury.
The stories on SPEAK OUT! Faces of Brain Injury are published with the permission of the survivor or designated caregiver.
If you would like your story to be published, please send a short account and two photos to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to publish your story and raise awareness for Brain Injury.
Frank Bruno (survivor)
On June 25, 1986, while at work, I fell twenty feet, fractured both sides of my skull, and was in a coma for three weeks.
In 1983, prior to my brain injury, I graduated in Sports Administration from Durham College. I had the honour of being named Male Athlete of the Year, which included winning the Provincial Basketball Championships in Tier 2 of the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association, being named to the Championship Tournament All-Star team, and capturing a bronze medal at the Provincial Touch Football Championship Tournament. Immediately following graduation, I was employed as the Racquet Sports Director at a popular racquet and fitness centre in Mississauga.
According to the doctors, there was little hope for my recovery. I was given less than a 2% chance of making it out of the operating room – never mind ever walking or talking again. Upon my awakening, I was placed into a rehabilitation program, where I received speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physiotherapy. My first recollection of being awake was that I could turn my head only to the left. The rest of my body was totally paralyzed. I had to be lifted in and out of my bed and wheelchair, as I could not do it myself. After several weeks of therapy, I was able to walk under my own power – much to the surprise of the doctors and therapists. They could not believe I had progressed to this point so quickly.
In 1987, a fellow classmate who worked at the office of Sport for Disabled Ontario asked if I was interested in taking part in sports again. I had a tough enough time trying to walk, so I declined. In 1988, I decided to give it a try – with the hopes of improving my co-ordination and increasing my stamina. (In case you are wondering, Sport for Disabled is different from the Special Olympics. The Special Olympics is for people who are mentally challenged. Sport for Disabled is for athletes who have a physical disability.) There are four major disability groups: (1) wheelchair, (2) amputee, (3) blind/visually impaired, and (4) cerebral palsy.
After a medical evaluation, I was placed into the cerebral palsy division at level 8. Within this division, there are eight classes: levels 1 to 4 are in wheelchairs and levels 5 to 8 are ambulatory. Level 1 is for those most affected by cerebral palsy, whereas level 8 is for those having the least visible disability. I have never had cerebral palsy, but because of my brain injury, I have the same neurological symptoms as someone born with cerebral palsy.
In 1988, I began to compete in Sport for the Disabled and at the Provincial Championships. I finished second in both the 100-meter race and the 200-meter race in the CP8 class. In Ottawa, for the 1989 Provincial Championships, I not only won both the 100-meter race and the 200-meter race, but I also won the long-jump and shot-put events. All were Canadian records. This earned me a place on the Provincial Team, which competed in the Foresters’ Games (National Championships) in Richmond, British Columbia. At these games, I won the same four events plus the 4 x 100-meter relay. This was the first time a Canadian cerebral palsy relay team ever finished in less than one minute. This qualified me to be named to the Canadian Team that would compete in the World Championships and Games for the Disabled, which were held in Assen, The Netherlands. I was entered into five sprint races, plus shot-put and long-jump. By the end of the Games, I had won five gold medals and two silver medals! I also set three world records and six Canadian records. The Ministry of Tourism and Recreation Ontario awarded me Ontario’s 1990 Disabled Athlete of the Year.
In 1991, the Barcelona Paralympic Organizing Committee invited me to take part in their “Test Meet” in Barcelona, Spain. I ran in the 200-meter and 400-meter events, winning Gold in both and lowering my world record in the 400-meter. The Paralympics are the Olympics for the physically disabled. They occur every four years in the same city as the Olympics. We use the same venues, eating facilities, and dormitories as the Olympics.
The Paralympics are usually held two weeks after the Summer/Winter Olympics are completed. At the 1992 IX Summer Paralympics, I competed in three sprint events: 100-meter, 200-meter, and 400-meter. I won three Gold Medals, plus I set two New World and Paralympic records and a Canadian record. In 1993 at the Robin Hood Games (World Championships for Cerebral Palsy), which were held in Nottingham, England, I competed in the 100-meter and 200-meter sprint events. I won Gold Medals in both.
The 1994 World Disabled Athletics Championships was held in Berlin, Germany. This World Championships was not as fruitful, for I was unable to attend any of the practice sessions. My back flared up, as it did not adjust properly to my mattress. After many physiotherapy and acupuncture treatments, my back responded well enough to allow me to compete in the 100-meter semi-final. I was happy just to be able to compete in the event. I finished second with a time of 12:23 seconds. The next day featured the 100-meter final race. I had a fairly good start, but at about the midway point, I felt a sharp pain in my right hamstring. As I continued to push towards the finish line, I tore my hamstring and was out of the competition. In that race, I finished 7th with a time of 12:70 seconds.
For the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics, I participated in only one event – shot-put. My hamstring did not heal to the point where I could train as hard as I wished. Then on May 13, I suffered a tonic clonic seizure, and this really made a mess of my training. I learned to throw the shot-put in just under four weeks. I placed fourth at the Paralympics and threw a personal best of 11.07 meters. I have held the World Record in the 200-meter event for eight years and the Paralympic Record for three Games. I also held the World Record in the 400-meter event for five years and the Paralympic Record for four years and two Paralympic Games.
On November 17, 1998 I was inducted into the Terry Fox Hall of Fame (now called the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame). September 1999 saw me come out of retirement again. The Czech Republic Cerebral Palsy Sports Association invited me to take part in the opening of a brand new athletic centre in Turnov, Czech Republic. I was asked to be part of the Field Throwing Triathlon. I was required to throw the shot-put, discus, and javelin. At first I declined, but after speaking with the organizing committee, they still wanted me to compete. I told them that the last time I threw the shot-put was in the Atlanta Paralympics in 1996, that the last time I threw the javelin was in 1989, and that I never threw the discus. I went to the Czech Republic with less than three weeks of practice. Not much was expected, due to my lack of practice time and the fact that the rest of the throwing field had been training for the past three years. I finished fourth in shot-put, seventh in javelin, and eighth in discus. In August of 2004, I was asked to come out of retirement yet again to help build the soccer program for Canadian Cerebral Palsy Sports, with the goal of qualifying for the 2008 Summer Paralympics in Beijing, China.
On February 5, 2010, I was awarded the “King” Clancy Award. On March 10, 2011, I was inducted into the Durham College Sports Hall of Fame and awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012). On July 4, 2015, I took part in the Pan Am Torch relay. On April 25, 2016, the Brain Injury Society of Toronto selected me as the Volunteer of the Year.
Thank you Frank Bruno for sharing your story.
(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)
(Photos compliments of contributor.)
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