Brandon Beack (21) describes himself as being “a very busy boy”, with a love and passion for gymnastics, dance and music. He has been active since the age of eight doing gymnastics and was a top gymnast at his school. But in 2012, a terrible accident caused his life to turn around.
“During a training session I did a dismount on the side and I ended up having a lapse of concentration. I don’t know how it happened but I landed on head, breaking my neck and bleeding from my head.”
Brandon was left paralysed from his chest downwards. He went for an operation and was in traction for a week. He struggled to breathe and could not move his hands. He went into rehabilitation for eight weeks.
“I had to rely on other people to bathe me, feed me, push me around, things you generally take for granted.”
But Brandon didn’t let his circumstances keep him down.
“The moment the doctor said that I would be like this for life, I just said no, that’s not my future. That’s not what I’m gonna do with my life. I’ve always been quite an optimistic person, I don’t really let things get me down, I feel that’s not productive.”
He reflects on the support structure of his friends and family. He describes how they never treated him like a disabled person, instead they did their best to include him and he is grateful for that.
“That was my saving grace, the fact that I wasn’t limited by a narrow mind-set. People treated me normal.”
Although being treated normal, there was still that sense of insecurity knowing he had to suddenly rely on others.
“It’s hell. It’s absolute hell. Because, I’m an independent person, I like to do my own thing, but now I had to sit there and wait for someone else to cut my food and help me get dressed. It can crush someone’s soul.”
Brandon says he can understand why people struggle after experiencing an accident that causes them paralysed, but he brings hope by saying it does not have to end there. And for Brandon, his journey has only begun.
“After raising enough funds, I was able to go to America for rehabilitation. I went to Atlanta, Georgia to a place called the Shepherds Centre, I spend 6 weeks there. It is one of the world’s leading spinal cord rehabilitation centres. And it was an incredible experience that changed my mind-set.”
Brandon wanted to bring that same mind-set to South Africans. He explains that he learned and grew more in America than in South Africa.
“It was two different worlds. I met guys in America who are in wheelchairs who were skydiving. It made me realise I’m capable of so much more. I came back to South Africa with this new inspiration, this new drive. I realised we really need to bring that programme to South Africa.”
Brandon investigated the robotic suit, something South Africa has never seen before. They raised enough funds to invest in one, which is based at the Sports Science Institute in Newlands, Cape Town.
Brandon quickly saw improvements in his stomach and back after walking in the suit for four weeks consecutively.
“It all comes down to repetition. It’s all those little exercises that work. The only way you’ll see improvement is if you put in the effort and time. If you sit back and quit you won’t know what you’re truly capable of.”
It was these improvements that encouraged Brandon to look into Paralympics.
“I missed the drive that sports gave me. I looked into Paralympics sports.”
He did shot put, discus and wheel-chair racing, in which he did 100m sprints.
“I started in 2015. It was a hell of an experience. Trying to hold a shot put ball in my hand where I could hardly hold a tennis ball. Needless to say I saw improvements and started enjoying it.”
He did his first nationals and got gold for shot put and discus, setting SA records. He went overseas as well, taking part in the under 23 Junior World Games, in which he came fourth for sprints and first for shot put.
“Being able to take part in an international level, I realised I’m capable of more than I’ve ever expected.”
Brandon is currently sitting 10th in the world for shot put and sprints at the Paralympics. He has started his own NGO called the Walking with Brandon Foundation.
“The option of rehab should be a right, not a luxury. You should have a right to recover. It’s not just for those who live in a mansion. There should be the same opportunities for all, and that’s what we want to offer.”
Brandon offers free training for those who do not have access to medical aid.
“Our dream is that people can come here and have whatever therapy they need. This includes guidance, peer support, training sessions all in one building, aiming directly at people with neurological conditions,” he says.
He ends off with determination in his eyes saying, “We’re hoping to change people’s lives.”
To find out more about the Walking with Brandon Foundation you can check out the website: