Published on April 22nd, 2012 | by Holly Chance0
Living Without Limits – Benjamin Bratton
Disabled triathlete Benjamin Bratton inspires to reach beyond one’s limits
By Holly Chance
At 17 years old, Benjamin is just like any of the guys around. He is a huge IU Hoosier fan, and he loves his music, citing Collective Soul and Steven Fey has his current favorites. His all time favorite movie is Toy Story (he loves Buzz Lightyear’s voice), and likes to hang out. Being quite handsome and gentlemanly, it is no surprise that he went to prom last year at Anderson High School.
Like any typical guy his age, he loves an adventure. At the age of 15, he and his father participated in the 2010 Sprint Endurathon, and registered for the Muncie Sprint Triathlon on Saturday, May 12th hosted by Muncie Multi-Sport at Prairie Creek Reservoir. Benjamin loves swimming, biking, running, and baseball. Sounds pretty typical for an active teenager, right?
However, Benjamin is also blind, autistic, and has cerebral palsy.
Born three months early, Benjamin suffered from a bleed in the brain, causing severe brain damage. To complicate matters further, Benjamin also contracted meningitis. “We were told that he would not survive,” explained Benjamin’s father, Chris. “The newborn intensive care unit has these curtains that they use in their ward to provide privacy for families for when an infant dies, and after 96 days, they pulled the curtain out for us, so sure that he would not live. We asked them for one more test, just one more to make sure. It was the strangest thing. The doctors ran the test, then had the tests read by the head doctor and the head of the hospital. Benjamin only weighed two pounds, but had the white blood cell count equal to that of a 300 pound man! I think Benjamin knew from the start that he had to be strong.”
Benjamin learned to swim when he was five. His family would go to the YMCA and he would play in the water. He caught the attention of a special needs instructor, and she asked to work with him. Chris explains, “He took to the water in no time, and the look on his face was priceless! It was an expression of surprise and pride and accomplishment. It is that face that makes it all worth it. It also told us that we have a player on our hands that really has something.”
The family explored other opportunities for Benjamin. Though not completely blind, Benjamin’s vision is restricted to fuzzy silhouetted forms and shapes. Chris would walk with him through the neighborhood, then play a modified version of hide and seek. “The neighbors were aware of what we were doing, and got a kick out of how quickly Benjamin would find his way,” Chris says. In time, Benjamin could distinguish his father from other forms, and even became familiar with the layout and shape of his own home in respect to other homes in the neighborhood.
Being blind, Benjamin relies heavily on his balance so that if he runs into an object or trips over an item, he will not fall. So the family would take hikes through the woods, and his older brother would pull sticks and rocks into Benjamin’s path so that he would become familiar with different terrains and how to balance himself when there are obstacles that he could trip on. Part of their training today involves running up and down the stadium bleachers to keep his balance strong.
Benjamin has always loved the feel of the wind on his face, and his father would spend countless time on the bicycle, pulling Benjamin behind in a carrier. While on vacation one year, the family found a bike rental shop that offered tandem bikes. Benjamin took to it in no time. Chris says that the bike leg of triathlons is his easiest part, because for the most part, he only has to steer the bike. Most of the pedal work is done by Benjamin. “I can actually take my feet off the pedals and hold my legs out,” Chris says, “I am only there to put the bike in the direction it’s supposed to go.
Physical activity is very important to Benjamin’s health. As a person living with cerebral palsy, he is prone to seizures. While he has not experience a seizure for several years, it could happen at any time. These seizures have the potential of leaving one side of the body in a weakened state, causing the person to rely on his or her stronger side to support everyday functions. It was with this concern that Benjamin’s parents enrolled him in the Challenger League at Pendleton, which is a sanctioned division of Little League Baseball enabling boys and girls with physical and mental disabilities, ages 5-18 the opportunity to enjoy the game of baseball. Benjamin enjoyed the game for several years, but as he got older, Benjamin became restless, and was looking for a bigger challenge.
Benjamin has a huge sense of adventure. Chris shared with me the story of when Benjamin caught a shark. “We were on vacation, and Benjamin and I were walking along the beach. There was a man sitting on the beach, wearing a prosthetic leg. In talking to the man, we learned that he had lost his leg to a shark, and he was sitting on the beach fishing. We talked for a time, and then began to walk away. The man called us back, and we discovered that the man had caught a baby shark. We spent time looking at the fish, and Benjamin held the shark for a bit before letting it go. The man and I continued to talk, and Benjamin had walked into the tide. Soon, Benjamin was waving something around excitedly. The shark had been pulled back to shore by the current, and he had found it again! Thankfully, the baby shark had not developed teeth yet, but Ben was so excited to have caught it on his own!”
In their search for a new adventure, the idea of training for and completing a triathlon is not surprising. “We were doing these things anyway, so why not?” Chris says, “Benjamin needs strength to be ready for anything that happens. Besides, we love hanging out together, and it keeps Dad healthy. When I am feeling overwhelmed or stressed, the time I spend with him puts everything back into perspective. This is what’s important.”
In 2010, Benjamin and Chris competed in the Muncie Sprint Endurathon, a triathlon consisting of a 400 yard swim, 12.3 mile bike and a 3.1 mile run, in a time of 2:45:46. After taking a year to rest, they will be doing the Muncie Sprint Triathlon this year. To train, they spend plenty of time in the pool (“Benjamin loves the water,” says Chris), taking plenty of walks and bike rides. In addition, part of their training includes running up and down the stadium bleachers, which allows Benjamin to continue working on his balance.
So what’s in the future for this up and coming triathlete? While Benjamin and Chris simply enjoy their time together, both are also very enthusiastic about raising the awareness of folks struggling with disabilities, and they hope to inspire many other to commit to a healthy lifestyle.
“We will stay local for now with events. We have a goal to participate in next year’s full Triathlon instead of the Sprint,” says Chris. We can expect to see Benjamin there, with that same beautiful smile and look of triumph.
If you’d like to watch Benjamin and his dad compete in the May Sprint Triathlon hosted by Muncie Multi-Sport, the event is May 12th at Prairie Creek Reservoir at 7801 South County Road 560 East, Selma, IN 47383. Race start is 8:00am.
Come watch Benjamin cross the finish line.