More than two years after suffering a severe spinal cord injury in a high school football game that changed his life forever, Colt Brake said he has set his sights on turning tragedy into good.
The former Rocky Mount Academy fullback and defensive end said he wants to be an inspirational speaker.
“When I was 15, a person came and spoke to us about how she was involved in a drunk driving accident and lost her arm, and she was on the national volleyball team,” Brake said. “She spoke about what life was like before her accident, during her recovery and how she coped with it and moved on after the fact. That is what I want to do.”
The 18-year-old who lost the use of his arms and legs during that fateful night in Kinston had a smile on his face Thursday as he talked about how he has since adjusted to the new normal.
“When I got hurt, I was expecting everybody had to do everything for me,” Brake said. “I wasn’t expecting the technology like my (Xbox 360) controller or the mouse on my computer.”
A former aerospace engineer and quadriplegic built Brake a unique controller with which he can play Xbox 360 games online by sipping and puffing into different tubes on a device to work the controls.
“It’s almost like a babysitter for me,” Brake said. “If I had to pick two things that have helped make my life better, they would be this ($45,000) wheelchair and my Xbox controller. My mom would probably want the wheelchair and the overhead lift.”
While Brake said he is not as good at playing Call of Duty as he once was, he can still play well enough to enjoy it.
“Before my accident, I had to practice everyday to be good at sports, and after staring at the (modified) controller for a long time, I decided I would try it because we all know practice makes perfect,” Brake said.
Having hunted since he could first hold a firearm, Brake said he was extremely happy when he visited Legends Ranch in Michigan where he used a blow-tube trigger and iPhone crosshairs to fire a high-powered rifle.
“I never thought I would be able to hunt again after the accident. I wasn’t expecting something with which I could just sit and fire a firearm just by moving my chin,” Brake said. “The only thing they have to do for me is put the bullet in, flip the safety and put it on me.”
The family also is training one of their three dogs, a 9-month French bulldog/Boston terrier mix named “Ellie,” to serve as a companion dog for Brake.
As a part-time student taking classes at Nash Community College, Brake said his former classmates who now are in college visit him regularly on their holiday breaks.
Facebook also has made it easy for him to keep up with several of the “family members” he said he met while being treated at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta.
“We’re ready to go back to Shepherd to do some more therapy,” Brake said. “It’s really a family over there.”
Brake also said he has regained some movement in his arms.
“When I got home, I couldn’t really touch my face with my hand. I had to tilt all the way back in my chair and lie down to be able to touch my face,” Brake said. “Now, I can do it sitting up. For my type of spinal cord injury – that’s a big step.”
Next month, Brake said he will be getting an armband tattoo on his left arm with a unique wheelchair symbol embossed within.
Other than being paralyzed, Tammy Brake said her son has remained healthy the past couple years.
“There is nothing on this earth that can make his spinal cord better humanly,” Tammy Brake said. “Nothing can undo what has already been done. The best advice I’ve received is to not treat Colt any differently than before.
“If his brothers want to load him up in a truck and take him off, let them throw him in the back of the truck and drive off.”
The mother said she will not make her son live his life in a bubble and restrict him from doing things out of fear of what might happen.
“When Colt thinks of himself, he doesn’t see himself in a wheelchair,” she said. “You only have to be around him for a few minutes to realize he is still Colt.”
While Tammy and her son enjoy going out into the community everyday, she said the couple have had a lot of problems with handicapped loading zones – principally at Walmart in Cobb Corners but also at the Golden East Crossing mall.
She said she doesn’t think the two ever have been to Walmart and been able to get back into the van when they came out.
“There always is a car parked in the loading zone. I really believe the people that park in the loading zones truly don’t think they are taking a handicapped parking spot away from somebody who needs it – but maybe I’m naïve,” Tammy Brake said. “It does hurt somebody when you are going to park there for a minute and then run in. It does hurt when you park in a loading zone beside a van with a lift that comes out and the person can’t get back in.”
People wishing to keep up with Brake’s progress can visit the “Keep Colt Brake With You” page on Facebook.