Antonio Olivero: Aspiring Paralympic snowboarder Brett Botelho inspires us to own life’s uncomfortable realities
FRISCO — There is an amazing way how the stories of certain athlete’s life-changing moments of standing up to fear and getting the best of it can put crucial elements of our own lives into proper perspective.
On Saturday, aspring Paralympic snowboarder and Summit local Brett Botelho’s perspective on the most jarring moment of his life crystalized why it’s so important to confront our own uncomfortable realities. When you do, as Brett’s story attests to, you can then open up unexpected opportunities in the life you created for yourself.
In a recreation and outdoors-loving sports community like Summit County, each of us, more often than not, rise up to attack each day’s challenges. But — though there truly are some sporting supermen and superwomen here — none of us are perfect. There are the tasks we never quite put at the top of the day’s priorities. There is the conversation we envision for another day and situation. There are the realities we carry with us like a shadow that we don’t acknowledge.
Some of these unresolved tasks and moments of opportunity in our lives are more consequential than others. In all cases, however, letting them fester can result in burden.
Saturday afternoon during a reading of his book “Standing My Own Ground” at Next Page Books and Nosh in Frisco, Brett described how he overcame his life’s many burdens to continue to strive in sports.
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Brett, before the age of 10, learned he had an auto-immune disorder that resulted in his body’s immune system attacking his nervous system. The disorder, chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, altered Brett’s life forever, paralyzing him for two years from the neck down.
But one day at a time and — quite literally — one step at a time, Brett recovered to the point of not only being able to walk again, but to take up his life’s calling: snowboarding.
As Brett grew older, he continued to have chronic physical conditions affecting his legs. After several surgeries, as Brett’s childhood evolved into his adulthood, he faced his life’s burden: whether or not to amputate his left leg below the knee to live a better, more comfortable life.
Looking back now, Brett wishes he’d had the surgery years earlier. But at the time, even after the surgery was a success, Brett was ready but yet reluctant to acknowledge his new life. After surgery, the deal he made with the doctors and those around him was that he’d cover up his leg until he was ready to see it.
Like so many elements in life, the course of reality had other plans. While transitioning from the hospital to transport home, the pillow and blankets covering Brett’s leg fell and he suddenly saw what his leg was now like.
“I cried out,” Botelho said during the Saturday’s reading, ‘What the f*** did I just do?’ The next words out of my dad’s mouth were said perfectly and at the right time, ‘You made this right decision, your life is going to be better. There is no looking back now.’
“Nothing more needed to be said,” Brett continued, “It hit me, and it hit me hard. …’This was my chance, and it was up to me to make a difference in my life.’”
Brett has done that since. He realized his dream of moving to Summit County to train with Adaptive Action Sports at Copper Mountain Resort. Last spring, he medaled at USASA Nationals. In three years he hopes to represent the United States competing in banked slalom at the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing, China.
He believes he will be there thanks to his dedication and belief in himself. It’s that belief that put in him in the situation where, working with Adaptive Action Sports, he would be ready if and when advancements in technology could aid his snowboarding. That happened recently when Brett acquired the Versa Foot 2, a state-of-the-art prosthetic developed by U.S. para-snowboarding legend Mike Schultz.
“I haven’t had an ankle for 20 years,” Brett said. “And when I stepped on that I was literally blown away.”
With the new prosthetic, Brett says he’s snowboarding more confident than ever. It’d never happened if he hadn’t “owned” his situation. Yes, that decision, and ones like it, are frightening propositions. But, when interacting with young para athletes, that’s the message Brett shares with them. To “own” each moment of life.
The most important quote to Brett’s life echoes that spirit of his. It’s from legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. It’s tattooed over his heart.
“Don’t let what you can’t do limit what you can.”
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