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Maryland Gazette

As a scholarship athlete at the Ohio State University, Ryan Brant was on top of the world.

However, when that scholarship was unceremoniously revoked, Brant felt discarded and depressed.

That experience ultimately led the Edgewater resident to found Positive-Strides-Org, a charitable foundation that provides guidance and assistance to athletes that have suffered catastrophic or life-changing sports-related injury.

"As I suffered through injuries and depression alone, I realized there were many others going through the same thing," Brant said. "I realized this was a bigger problem than just my personal experience, and there were thousands of male and female athletes around the country suffering like me."

Brant was a highly decorated lacrosse player at DeMatha Catholic in Hyattsville, earning All-Metro honors from the Washington Post and being accorded All-American status by US Lacrosse. He was rated the nation's No. 5 goalie recruit by Inside Lacrosse and received a slew of Division I scholarship offers.

As a freshman at Ohio State, Brant played in five games with two starts and his collegiate future appeared very bright. However, a knee injury initially suffered in high school would come to haunt the youngster.

Brant had reconstructive surgery to repair a torn patella tendon as a junior at DeMatha and at some point during his freshman season at Ohio State he shattered screws that had been inserted into the injured knee. He underwent a second surgery to remove and replace the damaged hardware then four months later required a third surgery on the same knee to repair nerve damage.

It was a lengthy recovery and Brant wound up playing in just one game as a sophomore at Ohio State. Unable to participate in most team activities because of being sidelined, he wound up drinking too much and struggled with academics.

"I started making bad choices. I understood later that it was the onset of depression," Brant said. "So much of my identity was associated with being an athlete. When I was unable to play lacrosse, I had this huge void in my life that I didn't know how to fill."

Upon conclusion of his sophomore season, Brant was informed by the coaching staff that he would not be receiving a scholarship for the following academic year.

"Basically, I was damaged goods and no longer of any value to the program," Brant said. "It's the harsh business of Division I sports. Why waste a scholarship on someone who can't play?"

Brant would transfer to Hofstra in hopes of rejuvenating his career, but wound up having a fourth surgery on the right knee while also undergoing back surgery to repair two herniated discs. To this day, the 22-year-old still deals with shooting pains and numbness as a result of the knee and back injuries. He was shocked to learn that universities are not legally liable to cover any medical expenses incurred by athletes while representing the institution.

"I was very fortunate that my family could afford to provide me with the very best medical care after I lost my scholarship," Brant said. "Unfortunately, that is not the case with a lot of athletes."

While at Hofstra, Brant began researching whether there were any organizations in the United States that assisted athletes that sustained debilitating or career-ending injuries.

"I found numerous foundations that provide services for athletes, but the majority of them focus on research," Brant said. "Research is all well and good, but how does it help athletes now?"

Positive-Strides.org has a mission statement of providing mental, physical and financial support to such athletes and Brant quickly found the exact type of person he wanted to help.

Stanley Doughty played football at the University of South Carolina, a dominant defensive tackle good enough to get signed by the Kansas City Chiefs as an undrafted free agent. When the Chiefs performed a physical on Doughty, team doctors diagnosed an acquired spinal injury that often occurs through traumatic blows.

Doughty wasn't surprised since he was temporarily paralyzed due to a helmet-to-helmet collision during a South Carolina practice in 2004. In retrospect, Doughty said he made a major mistake in trusting the opinion of university medical officials that he could continue playing.

Released immediately by the Kansas City Chiefs and no longer a student-athlete at South Carolina, Doughty had no way to pay for much needed medical care. He has spent the past seven years living at the Louisiana home of his parents, relying on meager disability checks and unable to afford the surgery necessary to correct his cervical spine injury.

That has changed thanks to Positive-Stride.org, which immediately paid for Doughty to be transported to the prestigious North Institute to see Dr. Donald Dietze, a noted neurosurgeon, and undergo an MRI. Dr. Dietze determined that Doughty must undergo Laminoplasty surgery, which replaces the C3 through C6 discs in the spine.

It is an extremely expensive surgery and Dr. Dietze has agreed to donate his services. Positive-Strides.org has been working hard to reduce other related costs and will eventually pay whatever is necessary to get Doughty back on his feet.

"I thank God for them," Doughty told CBSsports.com for an article about Positive-Strides.org. "They took it upon themselves to get me help and taken care of."

Doughty admitted to Brant that he was considering taking his own life because of the seemingly hopeless situation. He is unable to work due to dizziness, burning and numbness brought on by the spine injury.

"Who knows how many former college athletes go through these same medical and emotional issues?" Brant said. "There are thousands of Stanley Doughtys out there. Our goal is to find them and help them."

Positive-Strides.org is currently working with 15-20 former high school or college athletes, including a Towson University women's soccer player who lost her scholarship after suffering five concussions. Brant is also working with Pete DeSouza, a classmate at DeMatha who was playing football for the University of Maryland when he broke both legs after being hit by a campus bus while riding a motor scooter in 2010.

Another aspect of support provided by Positive-Strides.org involves mentoring programs that focus on life after athletics. In some cases, that involves helping former athletes find employment.

Although just seven months into its existence, Postive-Strides.org has raised around $100,000 in donations, grants and corporate sponsorships. Dennis Brant, who oversees several foundations, is helping his son navigate the process of obtaining 501(C3) status while building an organizational structure that includes a heavy-hitting Board of Directors.

Washington Redskins sports psychologist Juliet Francis, prominent University of Maryland trustee Barry Gossett and renowned orthopedic surgeon James Andrews are members of the board. So is Tim Strachan, a standout quarterback at DeMatha who had accepted a scholarship to Penn State when he became a quadriplegic as a result of a swimming accident.

dbroughton@capgaznews.com

 

July 28, 2014
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