Today’s post comes to us from guest contributor, Cari Fonseca, founder of The Next Step Foundation and Team Brandon, helping raise awareness about the life-altering effects of drinking and driving, and by helping families who have limited ability to get out and participate in racing events and other community activities.
My son, Brandon Gray, is a 34 year-old man who suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) from a motor vehicle accident in 2001. He was a strong, healthy young man with a bright future. In one split second, his life dramatically changed. He had been drinking and chose to get behind the wheel, which resulted in a life-changing event. The effects of that choice not only took the life of his best friend but changed his life forever. CHOICE MATTERS! Moving forward 13 years, Brandon is alive but with many limitations-not the life any parent dreams for their child. He is dependent on me and our family for all of his basic needs – things we take for granted. He is wheelchair bound and needs 24-hour care.
After years of being his primary caregiver and only focusing on Brandon, I neglected myself and gained more than 60 pounds. In March 2012, it was time for me to get healthy. I started pushing Brandon in his wheelchair daily. I started making better choices on food. As time went on, I realized these walks not only brought me joy and peace but Brandon enjoyed them too. As Brandon and I increased our miles, we decided it was time for an even bigger challenge. Inspired by Dick & Rick Hoyt, I decided to push Brandon through a full marathon. Team Brandon was born. We completed our first marathon in January 2013 at the P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon and realized this was the door I have been waiting to open. After 12 years of being cautious about people’s reactions or understanding of the horrific tragedy around Brandon’s accident and the death of his friend, I realized that running and pushing Brandon through marathons was a great forum to finally spread the message – Don’t Drink and Drive! In our first 1 ½ years of racing, I pushed Brandon (6ft & 180lbs) in an adult jogging stroller through 4 full Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathons and 2 half marathons. Generous donations allowed Team Brandon to purchase a custom-made Team Hoyt Racing Chair in July 2014, which makes pushing Brandon easier. As we participate in Arizona races, as well as out of state races, Team Brandon’s mission continues to spread awareness on the life-altering effects of drinking and driving.
Since January 2013, Team Brandon has completed 4 full marathons and 6 half marathons, and has achieved the Rock ‘n’ Roll’s Triple Crown, Encore and the CaliCombo Limited Edition Medals. Team Brandon raises funds to cover racing costs, helping families with special needs to obtain specialized equipment for racing and access to health, wellness and recreational activities. In April 2014, we partnered with a community coalition to speak to youth on the life-altering effects of drinking and driving. Recently we accepted a speaking presentation from the National Charity League, a group comprised of 300 mothers and daughters. Most recently Brandon started playing baseball at the Miracle League of Arizona (MLAZ) that specializes in allowing special needs players to have the opportunity to play ball in which they wouldn’t normally be able to participate. They have Buddies that help each athlete hit, run/roll, and score for their team. Team Brandon just partnered with MLAZ to establish the Miles of Smiles program, which will enable families to train with Team Brandon and participate in future racing events.
Vow to Drive sober this holiday season and save a life!