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The 2-Letter Word That Was the Key to My Recovery After a Spinal Cord Injury

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The day after Christmas 1979, at the age of 17, I broke my neck playing football. I found the courage and strength to recover, graduated from high school, and earned my college degree and my law degree as a quadriplegic. I found my purpose: to achieve more than expected, and to aspire to be the best I can be. I developed my own personal paradigm for mental, emotional and spiritual recovery to inspire those with similar injuries and give hope to their medical caregivers, family and loved ones. I call it “Getting Up is the Key to Life.”

After I was injured, I worked hard. The outlook at that time wasn’t good for someone with a C5/6 complete spinal cord injury. I designed a game plan that would take me in a different direction. I vowed that my path would be determined by an optimistic outlook and a whimsical approach to what was ahead of me.

I filled my days with school, hours of therapy, homework and reading motivational books. I soon added coaching grammar school football and basketball, which would leave me exhausted and with no time for a negative thought.

Instead of waiting for life to happen, I attacked life in every way I could. I was determined to find a way or make a way, and every time I got knocked down, I got back up. Getting back up became my mantra. I never realized how powerful a two-letter word like up could be.

It’s easy to understand up, meaning toward the sky or at the top of the list. In the morning, we wake up. We speak up, we call up our friends. We brighten up a room, warm up leftovers, and clean up the kitchen. We lock up the house and fix up the old car.

This little word up has a special meaning. People stir up trouble, line up for tickets, work up an appetite, and think up excuses. To be dressed is one thing, but to be dressed up is special. We open up a store in the morning, but we close it down at night.

If you’re up to it, you might try building up a list of the many ways “up” is used. It will take up a lot of your time, but if you don’t give up, you may wind up with 100 or more ways you could use the word up.

I believe that recovery consists of healing the mind, not just the body. Recovery is a journey, not a destination. More than 37 years after my injury, I am the father of three adopted children and a husband of over 25 years. I am the president of a nonprofit called SOAR that provides opportunities for people with disabilities to engage in outdoor recreation. I believe that getting up is the key to life. I hope that my story can help you face up to your own challenges with hope, faith and purpose!

Brian with his wife and 3 children, sitting in a golf cart.
Brian with his family.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one unexpected source of comfort when it comes to your (or a loved one’s) disability and/or disease? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: April 13, 2016
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