Snowboarding accident helps college athlete find new passion

PHILADELPHIA (WTXF)- Penn State’s Brett Gravatt was a soccer star who had dreams of playing professionally someday. Sports were always a part of his life and still are, but he found a new passion with goals in mind.

FOX 29’s Tom Sredenschek’s spent a day of Brett to share his story.

Brett grew up the youngest of three children and loved sports from soccer to baseball. If competition was involved, Brett wanted to be the best.

Nestled in the corner of Penn State's campus is Brett Gravatt's home, a 176 yard indoor track. Under a blanket of snow, lies his old home, in Penn State's soccer field. He was a rising star for the Nittany Lions.

Bob Warming is Penn State's soccer coach and remembers Brett scoring Penn State's only goal in a 2014 NCAA tournament game. But what he would like to forget was a text message he got from Brett two days after Christmas that year.

A snowboarding accident on the day after Christmas in 2014 left Brett permanently paralyzed from the chest down. Everything changed that night on a mountain in Virginia.

"I just remember spending a lot of time in the hospital, and was just like, I have two choices here. I mean this is my life," Brett recalled, "I didn’t see any other option, it was like, I have a choice to be miserable or not."

His athletic dreams were on hold; however the human spirit in Brett Gravatt had a different plan.

Now, Brett's more than quick, and is ranked 22nd in the world in wheelchair racing just 9 months after leaving a rehab facility in Atlanta without the use of his legs. Former Olympian Teri Jordan runs Penn State's Ability Athletic Program, and works with Brett on his new passion.

"I think it's just an inner drive. You don't get that. Either you got it, or you don't. He wants to be the best, no matter what sport it is," Jordan said.

His soccer dreams may be behind him, but Brett has picked himself up with new goals in front of him.

"He believes, and he's right, that he can be special in the things that he does," Coach Warming explained.

The drive to be better than good lives in the best athletes. But, there's still a question he still asks himself:  Why me?

"You walk around campus and you're the one person in a wheelchair. You know, you get looks, they might not be dirty looks, they're curious. You don't want that unwanted attention sometimes."

What happened in a snowboarding accident didn't close a door for Brett. It opened a new one.

"How it lined up, everything, after my injury, to say it's a coincidence is just not doing it justice."  

Tragedy took Brett from the soccer field to a wheelchair, but in so many ways, it didn't change who he really is. Brett lives his life every day, by an old expression: "Do what you can, where you are, with what you have."

"Teddy Roosevelt said that. I just saw that, and it felt like it hit me, and I related to it," Brett said.

For athletes and non-athletes, success is measured in different ways.

"Medals come and go. World records come and go, but the kind of imprint that they're gonna leave on somebody else's life is far more important," Jordan said, "That's what Brett is gonna do."

"I was meant for this path, whether I like it or not. I'm just gonna choose to embrace it. It's my life, and I can't go back. Can only go forward," Brett said.

Brett hopes to compete in three marathons this year: Chicago, New York and Boston.

While the summer Paralympic Games this September in Rio de Janeiro may be too much to ask, this fast, as he's only been in a wheelchair for nine months, we wouldn't bet against him either.

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