Brandon Perger

Brandon Perger

Schools help teenager return to sport after spinal cord injury

Brandon Perger from Kelowna, BC, was Rookie of the Year in Revelstoke, playing hockey at the Junior B level. In April 2011, he contracted bacterial meningitis, which resulted in a spinal cord injury. Although his injury has affected many areas of his life, Brandon has started participating in sports again thanks to a sports wheelchair funded by schools taking part in the Rick Hansen School Program.
Brandon began physiotherapy at GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre in Vancouver where he was reintroduced to sports, including wheelchair tennis, curling, and basketball. He is still doing physiotherapy in Kelowna, but his new sports wheelchair has improved what he is able to do. We talked to Brandon and his family to find out more about how this new wheelchair has changed life for the 17 year old.

Why is sport really important to Brandon?

Hockey was Brandon's whole life before he almost died of meningitis. He was Rookie of the Year and had already agreed to sign and play on a higher level team in a different city where they would also pay for college/university. Then he got sick. From Brandon's perspective, sports are now important for a completely different reason. Tennis, badminton, curling, ping pong, and basketball are all activities where he can enjoy being social. Obviously he understands how important the physical activity is, but following the acquired brain injury from the meningitis, the social aspect wrapped up with the sports is just as important.

Why will having this chair will make a difference?

After being a high level athlete and being the centre of his social circles, Brandon's illness affected his confidence and ability to socialize... as well as affecting his body. Whereas Brandon might be a little shy of "coffee groups", the sports wheelchair has allowed him the ability to socialize in a forum that he's accustomed to... different sports venues. Curling is certainly more of a social sport because it is slower and allows for conversation. In other words, the chair really has given him the freedom to expand his world and his social circles.

What is the biggest challenge Brandon has faced so far and how has he overcome it?

The first issue is the brain injury itself and how it impacts everyday life. Going to physio and working hard is much different than when Brandon used to go to a personal trainer and workout like crazy for 2 hours. This is a different kind of tired now. Also, emotions affect Brandon's physical body much more now than before – another side effect of the illness and subsequent brain injury. Brandon admits sometimes it would be easier for him to stay home than to get out and socialize and so he feels like he has to push himself to go out.

Who or what particularly motivated and inspired Brandon after he was injured?

Two people have inspired Brandon for two different reasons.

  1. Peter Isherwood. Brandon met Peter two years ago while they were in GF Strong together. Peter had been a professional mountain biker before his incomplete T5 injury. Peter inspired Brandon because of his positive nature and absolute determination to live life to the fullest regardless of his situation. Peter's work ethic is incredible and throughout everything, he remains the nicest, kindest, funniest person. Peter has adapted and now has new dreams, and is loving life.
  2. Pat Ryan. Brandon met Pat, who is missing a leg, after moving back to Kelowna from GF Strong. Pat has a son almost Brandon's age, and yet Brandon has so much fun with Pat when they get together and do sports. They curled on the same team for over a year and Brandon also plays tennis, badminton, and ping pong because Pat gets these sports organized. The reason Pat inspires Brandon is because he is a dad that has had to adapt and change because of the loss of his leg. Despite this, he enjoys and excels at a lot of different sports and still somehow finds the time to do the usual "dad-stuff" with his family.

What has been the biggest lesson Brandon has learned from this experience?

Never take life for granted and really enjoy the "everyday" things.

"Thank you again for Brandon's sports wheelchair... it really has made a difference in his life."

–Karen Perger, Brandon’s mom
If your school wants to make a positive difference in the life of a young person with a disability, check out our Abilities In Motion program in your resource box.