Hamline News

Unfinished Business

business article


“I should have been killed or been paralyzed. There is no way a 135-pound kid walks away from getting hit by a truck at twenty miles an hour,” Brandon Gleason said.

On February 12, 2007, five days after running a personal best at a NCAA Division III provisional qualifying meet, Gleason woke early to study for a music exam, eat his habitual animal crackers, and run his regular five miles. The facemask he wore to protect himself against record-low temperatures muffled the sound of the GMC Sierra truck speeding through the four-way stop at Thomas Avenue and Aldine Street. Struck to the ground, he remained conscious while his legs were run over by two of the truck’s tires.

“My tibia broke in half and tore through the skin twice. I pushed myself away so I wouldn’t get hit again,” Gleason said. “I later found out that saved my life, and that the Spandex had worked as a tourniquet. My movement popped the bone back in the skin.”

Having lost a third of his blood before arriving at Regions Hospital, doctors projected that he wouldn’t walk until May, let alone pursue his dream of earning All-American honors in cross country. Eighteen months later, Gleason’s constant smiles reflect this wonder: at the NCAA Championships last November, he placed thirteenth in the nation with a time of 24:47.802 in the 8,000 meter run, fulfilling his dream to be an All American.

Gleason was hospitalized and wheelchair-bound for two weeks, during which doctors inserted a baton-sized steel rod and four screws into his right tibia. The break was so severe and the risk of infection so high that doctors provisionally labeled him a leg amputee. His leg pain was intensified by a previously torn ligament and meniscus in his knee and by constantly having to clean and change his own dressings on open wounds. He had to give himself shots of a blood thinner in the stomach to prevent blood clots.

“It was constant pain, especially if I moved wrong,” Gleason said. He began weight training, working both legs to prevent over-dominance. At first just lifting a soup can taped to his leg was extremely painful.

Inspired by a book about runner Dick Beardsley’s addiction to painkillers, Gleason refused pain medication after three weeks. “After that I threw it all away and said ‘No, I want to do this the natural way,’” Gleason said. “‘I want to feel all of it so I know what true pain is, so when I’m in a race I will never complain that I can’t do it because I’m hurting because I’ve felt what true pain was before.’”

To doctors’ astonishment, Gleason accelerated from walker- and cane-dependence to using a walking cast by early April, and completed a rigorous rehabilitation program of weight lifting, cardio, and aqua jogging by May before beginning training on his own.

“Doctors said I probably came back so well because of what they called PMA, Positive Mental Attitude, because I’d always wanted to come back, so there wasn’t much doubt ever. Plus all of my teammates, coach, family, girlfriend, and more so, the Hamline community, were just so embracing,” Gleason said. “I got cards from alumni that weren’t even runners. People I’d never met were writing, calling, and emailing and that always kept me thinking, ‘Wow, this isn’t just for me, this is for everybody at the same time.’”

“I had unfinished business, in all honesty,” Gleason said about his determination to recover his and teammates’ dreams of achieving All-American honors and to become Hamline’s best cross-country team yet. “And some of it is that on February 2, 2008, a year after my accident, my father passed away from cancer. I remember him saying after my first race of my comeback, ‘I don’t think that you should run anymore, I just don’t want you to be disappointed.’ So now it’s kind of running with a chip on my shoulder, proving to him that it’s okay even though he was being cautious.”

“The accident changed Brandon,” coach and friend Paul Schmaedeke told the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. “It helped him appreciate how special it is to compete and how lucky he is to be able to. It has made him more aware that it is a gift. Brandon is one of the most dedicated, determined young men I have ever coached. He is very thoughtful, a hard worker and a real student of the sport. His teammates and competitors respect him for what he has accomplished.”

Having taken a year off to heal, train, and work as lead dispatcher for Hamline’s Safety and Security Services, Gleason will graduate this spring with a degree in psychology and education. The medically astounding recovery and All-American honors of this “kid from Mantorville, Minnesota” were featured in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd” and in a forthcoming book about the mind’s healing powers. However, Gleason aims yet for All-American honors in indoor and outdoor track, and most important, in academics with his 3.89 G.P.A. His post-graduation options are as broad as the Peace Corps, Teach for America, graduate school for school counseling or law, or a corporate job, but essentially, he wants to do something involving children.

“In a sense, I’m glad the accident happened because when someone says that it’s inspiring or it’s a miracle, to me it really doesn’t seem so. I love The Learning Channel and my mom’s a nurse at Mayo, so you always see these people that have way worse disabilities or are way worse off than you, so to me it never felt like I was at a disadvantage. It always caught me off guard when someone wrote saying that they’ve been inspired by me, so if the accident’s helped someone in that way, I am happy it happened.”

“Getting hit made me a different person, and probably made me a better person,” Gleason said. “Now I know what it truly feels like to struggle… because I never really had that rough of a life before, so to see that it can always be worse teaches you to be thankful for everything that you have. And I’m having a lot more fun now than I ever did. Everything’s been more positive for it.”

by Sunni Monson ’10