Atlanta, GA,
11:14 AM

Racing Toward Confidence

Andrew Blanton completes 5K Quarry Crusher Run after sustaining a brain injury.

Andrew Blanton took an hour and 14 minutes to complete the 5K Quarry Crusher Run held on Saturday, May 4, in Norcross, Georgia. That put him in 252nd place, out of 260 competitors, in the race’s men’s division.

His reaction:

“I felt like I won,” Andrew says. “It’s an accomplishment. I didn’t finish dead last. It made me feel proud and normal. That’s valuable to me.”

Andrew, 48, from suburban Atlanta, is currently an outpatient at Shepherd Pathways, Shepherd Center’s comprehensive rehabilitation program for people recovering from brain injuries.

Thirteen months earlier, Andrew was injured doing what he’s loved to do since he was 16: drag racing. He’d raced for four years in the late 1980s, then stopped when he joined the Navy and later concentrated on his sales job and raising his daughter.

He started again two years ago. His brother and sister-in-law race as well.

But Andrew’s return ended on a Friday night in March, 2018, at Atlanta Dragway, in Commerce, Georgia. A part on his dragster broke while he was going 100 mph and sent the vehicle rolling down the track for 700 feet. His seat belt slipped off his shoulders, and Andrew’s helmet thumped the track each time the car flipped. When it stopped, he was in a coma.

Andrew was rushed to Athens Regional Hospital with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and given a slim chance of survival.

About two weeks later, he transferred to Shepherd Center. He made steady, step-by-step progress in the inpatient Brain Injury Rehabilitation Program.

Andrew recalls the outings near the end of his four-week stay that he took with an occupational therapist, including one to a grocery store. The therapist had him put together a menu as if he were cooking a meal, then find the ingredients and take them to the register – all to simulate shopping for himself.

At Shepherd Pathways, where he participated in rehabilitation for six weeks, he used a road simulator to help him relearn to drive.

“Shepherd gave me life 2.0,” Andrew says. “Shepherd gave me the ability to to live my life on my own and feel like I’m living my life similar to how it was before the crash. Shepherd gave me that chance.”

Andrew continued therapy at a facility closer to his home, but he returned to Shepherd Pathways in January. He goes several times a week for services designed to address specific therapeutic needs.

Andrew drives himself to rehabilitation and soon will move into his own house. Completing the 5K, whose route sloped down 700 feet into an abandoned stone quarry and then back up, became another marker of his independence.

“Post trauma and TBI, I didn’t know I could do these things without Shepherd’s help,” Andrew says. “This builds my confidence. It lets me know I can get off the couch, go run a race and have a good time. It was cool.”

Andrew now plans to run – and walk -- in other local 5K races.

“I’m not going to jump into the Peachtree,” he says with a laugh, referring to the annual AJC Peachtree Road Race, held every July 4th in Atlanta and drawing 60,000 runners and walkers. “I know better. I’m going to baby-step this."

"Well, maybe next year I’ll attempt the Peachtree,” he adds, only half-jokingly. “I don’t know.”

Written by Drew Jubera

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.