A tragic event left him paralysed, tore him from the sport he loved - but his Olympic dream lives on

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  • After a gymnastics injury, Brandon Beack was left paralysed.
  • He was training towards representing South Africa at the Olympics.
  • He's now competing on a different level and has started a foundation to help others with similar disabilities.

Paralysis - the last thing a teenage boy expected during a training session for the sport he poured his heart and soul into.

The future looked bright and full of opportunity for Brandon Beack - he was a talented musician, dancer, and gymnast who, at the age of 16, was training at junior Olympic level.

During a training session in 2012, his future in gymnastics, however, came to an abrupt end after a familiar routine on the parallel bars. 

Paralysed from his shoulders down

Beack was doing his usual routine. He went in for a back summersault dismount, but missed the safety mat, landing on the only square metre of uncovered concrete.

He landed on his head, split it open and broke his neck at the C6-C7 vertebrae - and in a matter of seconds, he was paralysed from his shoulders down.

"I had no function in my hands - no sensation - and only partial movement in my arms. After days of being on my back and weeks of in-patient rehab, the doctors said I would have to accept this as my life," Beack recalled.

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They added he would probably need someone to feed, bathe, and dress him every day.

But something inside Beack did not agree with the doctors' verdict.

READ | Paralysed patients undergo complex 'nerve transfer' surgery - and regain movement in hands and arms

"I'm not going to let someone else determine what my future is going to be. I'm not going to let someone else tell me what I'm truly capable of. And I'm not going to let someone else put limitations in place before I even try," Beack said.

Working towards something

His dream was always to represent South Africa at the Olympics, and after the accident, it all seemed out of reach.

His rehab coach at the time, Robert Evans, told Health24 he could see Beack needed more than just the routine rehab training in the gym.

"He was a sportsman before and it's hard if you're just training to train if you're not working towards something," said Evans.

He added once Beack started doing wheelchair sprints, he could see the enjoyment and adrenaline rush he got from competing.

This newfound passion got Beack's dream back on track, giving him a new way to represent the country - at the Paralympics.

He continued to build his strength and stamina, improving his technique and racing times.

Even though Beack just missed the cut for Tokyo 2020, he picked up the pieces and is coming back even stronger.

The strength of Para athletes

In an article about Under Armour, the performance sports brand Beack represents, he spoke about competing on the world stage: "There is a quote that says, 'The Olympics is where heroes are made, but the Paralympics is where heroes compete'. 

"This isn't said to undermine able-bodied athletes, but to emphasise the strength of Para athletes, because they live and compete with a disability. 

READ | New nerve stimulation technique might relieve back pain

"Disabilities come with a host of complications that would make most people throw in the towel, but we have no choice but to pick ourselves up, fight through it and carry on - there is no other way.

"Imagine the challenges of swimming at Olympic level with no arms, or playing soccer blind, shooting archery with your feet, doing the high jump with one leg," he added. 

"The Paralympic movement is an eye-opening, jaw-dropping, humbling and exhilarating experience that I am incredibly grateful to be a part of."

Beack's ambition and drive don't stop there.

After doing a few hours of rehabilitation a day for several weeks while he was in hospital, the time came for him to be discharged and embark on a new chapter in his life.

An enormous impact

Beack's parents struggled to source adequate, accessible outpatient rehabilitation for him, and they eventually found a centre in the US for him to specifically receive neurological rehabilitation. 

His parents invested all they had just to get him to the States for the treatment, and it made such an enormous impact that Beack and his parents came home and established a foundation to help him and others.

In The Road to Tokyo, Beack said he regained more function than anyone had ever expected, and attributed it to dedicating his time to rehab, therapy and true grit.

After the years of gruelling rehab and the visit to the US, the Walking with Brandon Foundation was established and Beack became obsessed with his new sporting code.

Adamant to walk again

"I felt what I've been exposed to over the last few years, and how I've improved and recovered, what can others achieve if they were exposed to the same opportunities, the same therapy?

READ | Brain implant lets paralysed patients operate tablet device just by thinking about it

"So, Walking with Brandon offers the first of its kind advanced out-patient, neurological rehabilitation programme to all people with physical disabilities," he said.

Other than helping others with the same injuries, or training to compete, Beack is adamant he will walk again - even if it takes the rest of his life.

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