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Global May 08, 2015

Paralysis, pain can’t stop Penn State soccer’s Brett Gravatt as his new life begins

It was Christmas Day, and Brett Gravatt, a Penn State men’s soccer player and former D.C. United Under-23 squad member, was back home in Northern Virginia enjoying the holidays with his family.

After a bumpy start to his NCAA career, which started at Akron in 2013 before a transfer to PSU, Gravatt had overcome injuries to work his way into coach Bob Warming’s plans. He capped his 2014 season with a clutch goal in the Nittany Lions’ comeback win over Hartwick in the NCAA Tournament. There was much to celebrate.

“We spent the day at the home. Tradition is family time, spending it together, and presents,” Brett recalled in a recent conversation with

As they unwrapped presents, some family members were also preparing for a trip to Smith Mountain Lake. But nobody knew just how Brett’s life would change forever just a day later.

While visiting Lynchburg’s Liberty Mountain Snowflex Center on December 26, Gravatt suffered a spinal cord injury as the result of a snowboarding accident. He fractured a thoracic vertebrae and is now paralyzed from the lower chest down.

“I was just in shock,” he said. “It was just all happening so fast. Everything was a blur, waking up in the hospital after surgery, figuring everything out.”

Gravatt was airlifted to the University of Virginia Hospital and had two rods and eight screws inserted in an emergency surgery.

Now, his new mission in life has begun.

+READ: Chapter 10: DON’T BURN BRIDGES – ROOKIE: Surviving Your Freshman Year of College Soccer

“I’m doing great right now. We’ve been working to get back to school,” he said. “Life has restored its balance.”

Brett Gravatt 2Gravatt has been spending plenty of time in his Dunn Loring, Virginia home, as renovations are nearly finished to make the house more accommodating to his wheelchair.

He has yet to regain any feeling in the lower part of his body, but he has been told by doctors that there is a chance that within two years he could regain some sensation or motor functions.

He may return to PSU this summer, but there is also a chance he returns to Happy Valley in the fall. He will continue to be with the men’s soccer team, but this time as a student coach.

“I think it says a lot about the coaches, for finding a way to keep me as part of the team, give me something to do,” Gravatt said.

Humor always on display

Lora Gravatt, Brett’s mom, says her child has always a great sense of humor. He has shown it during this wrenching change in his life.

“We love Brett’s sense of humor, and [it’s] something we as a family enjoy. I do think his humor does serve him well and a healthy indicator being able to laugh at one’s self,” Lora, a Family Life Pastor whose faith has served her well during this challenging time, said. Lora Gravatt

Instead of being down and depressed about the misfortune that has befallen him, Brett has made it a goal to stay strong, for his family, friends and himself.

He says it is just who he is, being funny, and accepting the path his life has taken.

Online, he enjoys trying to make people laugh, poking fun at his condition. All you have to do is take a glance at his Twitter account (@BrettGravatt).

It’s all part of trying to be positive, something he attempts to do every day of his life. “You can laugh at yourself. It shows a good thing that you are OK with how you are,” he said. “It is who I am – never too serious.”

Moving forward

And while recreating his top form for the Nittany Lions will never happen again, it doesn’t mean this sports enthusiast is done. In his future is wheelchair racing, which he has started participating in recently.

He wants to train, compete and see how far he can go, setting his sights on the Paralympic Games in 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. He will compete in the fall and is in process of getting a personalized chair for it. In the meantime, he continues to live life to the fullest, enjoying everything, no matter what hurdles are in front of him.

First time training in racing chair! LOVE. 2020? #inspire #handicapable

A photo posted by Brett Gravatt (@brett.nich) on

To contribute to Brett’s cause and see updates, visit

“The most difficult part is realizing that life is different now. It’s a different path. You can’t play soccer, pursue that anymore,” he said. “It’s more mental than physical. Just trying to find other things to keep me busy, get into.

“Five years, 2020, will be Tokyo. Whenever you start something, you have to have a high goal and see how far we can go with it.”

And everyone is in his corner.

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