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Athlete Continues to Set Big Goals after Spinal Cord Injury

Brett Gravatt of Chula Vista, California, recovers his competitive fire with the help of Shepherd Center's Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program.

Brett Gravatt, 21, is a rising track star for Team USA. In January 2017, he was selected to train, in residency, with the U.S. Paralympic team at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California. Six days a week, he trains among the best U.S. athletes in their sports.

A wheelchair racer, Brett sprints in the 100-, 400- and 800-meter events. He’s attempting to qualify for nationals, to be held at UCLA in June. If Brett places highly enough there, he would make the U.S. national team heading to London for this July’s World Para Athletics Championships. Brett’s ultimate goal is the 2020 Summer Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

“It’s all about pushing yourself,” he says. “Big goals open your eyes. Why not shoot for the stars? Your motivation dies out without a goal.”

Brett knows something about big goals. In 2014, as a sophomore on Penn State University’s soccer team, he scored an eye-popping, game-winning goal in that fall’s NCAA tournament.

One month later, Brett’s professional soccer dreams were over. Over Christmas vacation, he sustained a T-6 spinal cord injury in a snowboarding accident.

“It was a process to recover that competitive fire again,” Brett says.

What helped, he says, was getting into an aggressive physical rehabilitation routine in Shepherd Center’s Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program after transferring from the University of Virginia Medical Center.

“Nothing can prepare you for how grueling and taxing that is, mentally as much as physically,” Brett says. “But you learn habits. You see results and you feed off the progress.”

He also had access to Shepherd Center’s sports program, the largest adaptive sports program in North America. There, Brett got a glimpse of how his competitive desire could be applied in new sports.

Brett returned to Penn State and served as a student coach for the soccer team. He also trained in the university’s Ability Athletics program and tried out for the 2016 Rio Games – coming within one spot of making the U.S. Paralympic team. That’s nothing but fuel for Tokyo 2020.

“Finding this athletic pursuit has given me focus and direction,” Brett says. “You never truly understand how strong you can be, what you’re capable of, until adversity hits you.”

Written by Phillip Jordan

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.