Posted: Sep 7, 2012 4:35 PM by Hope Hanselman, KSBY News
Updated: Sep 8, 2012 7:56 AM
If you thought that olympic fever was over, think again. Countries around the world have been competing in the Paralympics for the last week and a half.
So, whether you watched the able-bodied games or the Paralympics, the stories out of London this year have inspired many.
These athletes overcome all kinds of hurdles to get there. One Paso Robles man shows KSBY just what it takes to compete in those games.
"I was listening to the radio on the way over here," Brent Poppen said as he hit cardio machines at Kennedy Club Fitness in Paso Robles. "They had some Olympian coming in and interviewing saying, 'well, the Olympic spirit is over now, the Olympic movement is over.' I want to call up and be like, 'no, the real spirit is not over. There's still 11 more days of it.'"
What is an Olympian made of? Something hard as rock? Something brilliant in the spotlight?
In Paso Robles, you'll find one: Brent Poppen, the Olympian.
"I just turned the corner at 11 o'clock at night and I was like, what is this? My whole property had red, white and blue flags all around the fence. Someone had painted the Olympic logo into the side of my hill."
He took on Athens in 2004, Beijing in 2008. When he came home, he took on the rest of the world, holding his head high. Four feet in the air.
"When I go to bed I think about being on the podium, just like an able-bodied athlete."
Twenty two years ago, a 16 year-old boy was about to open high school baseball season as the starting pitcher.
"The last thing my coach told me was don't do anything dumb and get hurt."
But life threw out a curve ball.
"We were just horsing around, boys being boys. I put my head in his chest, and I picked him up and we fell over sideways."
That day, Brent's upper cervical spine bent, paralyzing his body.
Days later, he recovered the use of his neck and arms. But not his feet, legs or much grip in his hands.
"My level of injury was so high I heard a lot of you won't, you can't."
Years later, he wheeled into the Olympic arena and along the bedsides of hundreds of children.
In addition to competing in wheelchair rugby and tennis, Brent keeps busy making the commute to Children's Hospital in Fresno to work as a counselor.
"They're still going to have dreams. There's still going to be families, and graduations, and birthdays, and- hopefully- gold medals."
He heads up a program teaching disabled children to water ski and play other sports.
Now, Brent is turning the wheels in their heads.
"If I could go back to February 18, 1990, and not wrestle, would I? And I always tell them I wouldn't change a thing."
His chair doesn't confine him, nor does it define him.
"It's what I am. It's what I do. I love to be an athlete."
An Olympian isn't made of rubber or steel. Not of silver or bronze.
But whatever it is caught a glimmer in Brent's eye- eyes that are yearning for London this week.
Brent was not able to qualify for the London games due to a blood infection that had him recovering in a hospital bed for seven months.
"So, rather than watching TV, I just started typing a story about a second grader in a wheelchair with a diability, and his first day at school and what that would entail with friendship and bullying."
Brent wrote a children's book titled "Playground Lessons" before starting an autobiography, "Tragedy on the Mountain."
The story of the second grader, Harley, draws remarkable connections to this seasoned Olympian.
"... Feeling nervous, knowing that when I open that door everyone is going to be looking at me. I'm going to be the only one in a wheelchair probably."
Brent uses both books as he tours schools around California, uplifting children to see his plight in a positive way.
But the story of Brent's life doesn't have a happy ending.
"I guess if we could do this in 2016 and I'm wearing a gold medal, then I could say the story ended in a happy way."
Brent Poppen has yet to show what he's really made of.
"I'm going to do it, and we're going to make a difference doing it."
Brent says he knows he's making a break-through in the classroom when the kids start acting out his characters on the playground.
He is now looking for sponsors for local classrooms and schools to help spread his message.
For more information on Brent's school visits, click here.
As for the next step, Brent hopes to compete in the 2016 Paralympics in wheelchair tennis. This time, he plans to come home with the gold.
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