American Grit – Meet Brooke Van Paris

Remember how I promised you that I’d be introducing you to some truly inspiring people this year?  Well, Brooke Van Paris takes the cake on this one.  She is a fellow cast mate on American Grit and, more specifically, she’s the girl who comes out of the ice bucket and is sent to the hospital.  Here’s the clip in case you haven’t seen it:

Or as my kids call her, “Is she the girl that died?”  I’m happy to report that Brooke is very much alive and has survived a lot worse than an ice bath.

I’ve asked her to tell you her story, in her own words.  I hope she inspires you to never give up on yourself and to overcome whatever obstacles you may face in your life.

You can follow her on Facebook – facebook.com/brookevanparis and Instagram – @Brookevanparis

Brooke Van Paris - American Grit
Brooke Van Paris – American Grit

MY STORY

6 years ago, in October, my life changed forever. I was involved in a head-on car accident in Bloomington, Indiana and the airbag shattered both of my hands. At this time, October 29, 2009, I was attending Indiana University as a sophomore double majoring in Accounting and Finance through the Kelley School of Business and on a full-ride scholarship. I had been a gymnast for 10 years and was involved in Club Gymnastics at IU.

Car crash
Car crash

When the accident occurred, I was leaving class…crossed through an intersection and BOOM. My life was changed in a split second. My SUV did 2 360-degree circles, my window shattered, all 4 tires blew, the airbags blasted, and the engine came into my car and onto my lap. I opened my eyes and was completely in shock as to what had just happened. There was smoke everywhere in my car and I couldn’t stop the uncontrollable screaming coming out of my mouth. As I tried to get out of my car, I realized my feet were stuck. The pedals had wrapped themselves around my feet and the only way I could escape was to slide my feet from my shoes and get out as quick as I could.

As I ran from my car, students around the intersection grabbed me and held me as I screamed and cried at the devastation. I called my parents from a strangers cell phone and tried to collect my thoughts on what had just happened. That small moment allowed just enough time for me to calm down, and that’s when I noticed something was very, very wrong. My hands were crushed. I screamed out in horror.

The next morning I was scheduled for surgery with an orthopedic surgeon in the Indy area. X-Rays were done and sure enough, both hands were broken. I had surgery immediately after, and for the next 8 weeks- I was to be confined to full, fingertip to elbow casts on both arms. Little did I know, I was about to embark on a 2 yearlong journey without my hands.

Surgery 1 with external pins sticking out of Brooke's hand
Surgery 1 with external pins sticking out of Brooke’s hand

For the next 2 years I ended up having 4 surgeries, one every 6 months, to try to correct the damage in my hands. Plates, internal pins, external pins, screws, physical therapy, and multiple casts were my destiny.

Now, you may wonder what it would be like to have no use of either hand. Well, let me show you. Take both hands, tie them behind your back, and proceed to try to live your life. Everything I took for granted, I couldn’t do. I couldn’t go to the bathroom alone, shower, touch my face, brush my teeth, eat, dress myself, open a door, use a computer or phone, or even pet my dog. I was completely helpless and it broke my spirit. I was a 19-year-old independent, intelligent, athletic all-star who now couldn’t even do the simplest of tasks without asking for help.

During this time, it was easy to get down on myself and down on life, but I had to stay strong. My parents were my biggest supporters. They would come down to IU 2-3 days a week each and help me with anything they could. During these times, we would have talks, talks about life and strength, about God and his plans for me. I decided in the beginning that I was going to be a fighter and get through this. I was not going to pity myself, and I was going to stay in school and finish as I had planned. My dad told me to “Believe in your dreams. Focus on your education. Education is something that can never be taken from you,” and I did just that.

Brooke with casts
Brooke with casts

With the help of my support group and some amazing professors, I finished school after 4.5 years with a 3.67 GPA. I maintained full-time student status the entire time and graduated with a Management degree from the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. I was a fighter, and after so much pain and suffering- I had a huge victory.

Throughout that whole time, I had the “Never Give Up” attitude. I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason and God had a much bigger plan for my life. Sometimes we don’t always see around the corner. We ask “Why Me?” a lot, and trust me, I had my share of tears and questions, but positivity helped me to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I have learned a lot from that experience. I have learned to be compassionate and humble. I have learned to live everyday like your last and to value the people in your life. Life is just too short to be anything but happy. Happiness is still in my daily life and because of that- I am truly victorious.

Now, for the real meat and potatoes- MY LOVE OF OCR!!!!

Photo credit: David Long-Cincy Photography
Photo credit: David Long-Cincy Photography

After my accident, my muscles had atrophied and were nearly non-existent. Everything I had worked so hard for was gone and I was now 22 years old and I was graduated from college. There were not many opportunities available for team sports at this age unless I wanted to do recreation leagues, and I was even embarrassed to do this with my current athletic ability. When you are sedentary for so long, you can’t help but gain weight. The sympathy eating didn’t help either. So, at this point, I was overweight a un-athletic- basically I was living in a body that wasn’t mine and living a life that was foreign to me.

Last year, I was invited to do my first OCR, called Morgan’s Mud Gauntlet. It was a small 3-mile local race with obstacles, trails, and water. I figured I would try it out- little did I know, my life was about to change again. When I finished the race, I was absolutely beat. I couldn’t run to save my life and the obstacles seemed challenging, but for some crazy reason, I was hooked!

Photo credit - Billy Howard - GameFace Media-SingleStone
Photo credit – BattleFrog

When I got home, covered in OCR kisses (bruises and scrapes), I hopped online and signed up for as many as I possibly could. OCR, trail runs, street runs, ANYTHING! Did I mention, I had never run a full mile in my entire life without stopping before this???

Now, as I am sitting here writing this, reflecting on the last year… I can sit here and proudly tell you. I have now done over 48 races in the last year! 22 of these races were OCR and I qualified for OCRWC (Obstacle Course Racing World Championships) at 8 of them. In October of this past year I competed at OCRWC in both individual and the team events- ranking high in both. I earned my life back and found my happiness again. You may be wondering then, what happened to my body at this time? I mentioned earlier that I had gained a lot of weight, so what did OCR do for me in this department? With my determination, healthy eating, training, racing, and focus- I lost 40 pounds in the last year. I earned my body back.

Brooke-before-after

I refuse to live an average life. I don’t want to settle. If I have a goal- I will reach it and I still to this day, have never given up. From novice to elite, I have grown in the sport of OCR. It gave me my life back and introduced me to so many inspirational people who share similar journeys to mine.

In particular, some of my biggest supporters (besides my ever- encouraging family), are the Crazy Mudder Muckers, Kevin Jones in particular. I joined this family of racers after the Ohio Spartan Beast, and I say FAMILY with conviction. These people have supported me and never had a discouraging word to say. We all show up at nearly every race and meet up, we blog on social media about workout tips and meal ideas, we care about each other on and off the course, and genuinely love each other like brothers and sisters. They took me in as their own and even gave me the BEST nicknames EVER! BVP and Beast Mode Barbie are my names out on the course.

Brooke-ocr-close-up

Never in my life have I seen a sport with so many inspirational and happy people. Everyone is always just so happy to be moving, to be running, and to be crossing the finish line. We wear our OCR kisses and medals proudly. This last year of my life has been a crazy ride, its like I took life by the horns and jumped onto that bucking bronco without hesitation. I raced almost every weekend for 9 months, but it was worth it to find my passion again. I want to inspire people with the story of my journey, to motivate them and remind them that they are not alone. I’ve been there and I have seen defeat, but if I can change my life, you can too.

As I sit here tonight, writing and reflecting on the amazing journey I’ve been on, tears trickle down my cheeks. They are not tears of sadness, but rather happiness. In 2009 I thought my life had ended, but it had really only just begun. Although I never wish to experience that again, my accident changed my life for the better, and when my physical strength diminished, God strengthened my mind and my spirit. He gave me my never quit attitude and I now carry that into my OCR life. Babe Ruth said it best when he said, “ Its hard to beat a person who never gives up.” I plan on running mainly Elite heats this year, but I will always remember my journey and that quote. No matter where I end up placing, I know that as long as I never give up and try my best, I will never be beaten. You can never do any better than your best, and I promise you- my best is all I have.

Photo credit - Billy Howard - GameFace Media-SingleStone
Photo credit – Billy Howard – Single Stone Photography

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Thanks, Brooke, for sharing your story!  Remember to watch American Grit on FOX, Thursdays at 9 p.m. starting 4/14.

Stay healthy!

Lisa 😉

Lisa Traugott is a Mom’s Choice Award winning writer, fitness blogger, wife and mom of two….and Original Cast Member of AMERICAN GRIT on FOX!!!

Standing in my size 14 jeans

ShesLosingIt.com (c) 2012-2016 Lisa Traugott. All rights reserved. No portion of this blog, including any text, photographs, video, and artwork, may be reproduced or copied without written permission.

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