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Brent Poppen

Paso Robles, United States


As a sixteen year old high school athlete you think that you are invincible. You have dreams and aspirations of championships, college and pro athletics. You are nervous about dates and dances. You never think about breaking your neck and never walking again. Well, now you might. That is my story and how a spinal cord injury changed my life. This turning point has provided me with opportunities I could have only dreamed of.

February 18th, 1990 is the day that I took my last step and began a journey of pushing myself past limits that I had never thought possible. This is the day that I broke my neck (at the level of the sixth cervical vertebra) in a wrestling accident at a church camp and was left a sixteen year old quadriplegic wondering what was wrong because I could not feel or move any part of my body! What you might find interesting is that it was also a peaceful time. After the injury occurred it was hours before I made it to a hospital. The camp thought that my loss of feeling and function was due to a “stinger” (football term used for pinched nerve). They thought that time would correct what was wrong with me. Once enough time had lapsed and my condition did not improve paramedics were called. Weather became a major issue in getting me to the hospital as we were in the middle of a major snow storm. Nothing happened in a timely matter. To add insult to injury, quite literally, halfway down the mountain I had to be transferred from one ambulance to another ambulance because of a county regulation. Initially, I was taken to a rural community hospital, which was no place for a spinal cord injury to be treated. Due to the weather I was literally stuck there with no family or support. They were called and told that their son had broken his neck, had little function and would never walk again. The hospital said that they would do surgery and send me home. This news was obviously not received very well. My family got to me the next day and arranged for an air ambulance to take me to Long Beach Memorial Medical Center where I could receive proper care. I was at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center for three months and discharged on May 23rd, 1990 (one day before my 17th birthday). It was now that I had to begin living my life as a seventeen year old quadriplegic. It soon became clear to me that I had a choice to make and that choice would shape the rest of my life.

In my mind, my choices were (i) to be angry at the world for what had happened to me or (ii) to not be afraid of dreaming again and working hard to make those dreams a reality. I chose to dream and not be afraid to fail. I finished my senior year in a wheelchair. I went on to earn my Associate’s Degree and then my Bachelor’s Degree. I earned a teaching credential for the State of California. I have been happily married for 8 years. I continue to be an athlete. I compete in Wheelchair Tennis and Wheelchair Rugby. I have represented the United States in both sports, receiving multiple medals. In 2004, I was a part of the Bronze medal winning Wheelchair Rugby Team, representing the United States of America at the Paralympics held in Athens, Greece. In 2007 I competed in Sweden, at World Team Cup Tennis, winning a Gold Medal. I am currently training to qualify for a position on the Wheelchair Tennis Team, Quad Open Division, to represent the United States of America in the 2008 Paralympics to be hosted by China. I have found a passion for speaking to the public about my life and in doing that hope to help inspire the lives of others. I want to be a motivating factor helping people to dream and overcome their own life’s obstacles. I feel that I can be a source of inspiration people can call upon when they feel like they have no hope or lack motivation to accomplish their goals. My life continues to challenge me with obstacles on a daily basis. Those obstacles have shaped who I am. My life has taught me to live for today because tomorrow may not always come, or at least not the tomorrow I had planned on. For me, it is not the end result that truly matters but the journey leading me to my destiny.

Interests: Making a positive and profound impact on the lives of others through my trials and tribulations.

Published writer: No

Freelance: Yes