Brandon Gleason’s Worst Day Ever
by Charlie Mahler
Photo by Andy King
If Brandon Gleason had been a little less dedicated, he might not have gone out for his morning run on February 12, 2007.
“I was still coming off of my high from Friday’s race at Iowa State and I was also thinking that the last day I had off from running was two days before Christmas,” the Hamline University junior-at-the-time remembers.
Gleason had run a personal-best 14:35 5000 meters at the big indoor meet in Ames, which ranked him 6th in the event in NCAA Division III at the time. He was looking forward to running a fast mile at the University of Minnesota at the end of the week.
“But I told myself that if I get through this week, I can take Sunday off and get ready for conference and nationals. Plus, I thought that if I am not training, someone else is; therefore, I got up and started my morning routine.”
If Brandon Gleason had not had a music exam that morning, he might have gotten out the door a little earlier, after he’d eaten his unique early-morning snack.
“Whenever I wake up to go do morning runs,” he admits, “I always have a handful or two of animal crackers just to have something in my stomach, and this day was no different. I went to the kitchen, got my animal crackers, and went back to my room trying not to wake my roommates. I studied a little for my test and began getting ready for my morning run.”
If Brandon Gleason had allowed it, he might have shortened his run and not run his typical five-mile morning run loop.
“The run was going extremely well and I was just reflecting back on my race from Iowa State and analyzing it and thinking where I can make improvements and adjustments for nationals in the 5k,” he says now.
“I remember that after three miles I began to get into a pretty good rhythm and just was all smiles from Friday’s race still.”
As he crossed the intersection of St. Paul’s Thomas Avenue and Aldine Street, four-and-a-half miles into his run, Brandon Gleason was struck by an SUV blowing through the intersection’s four-way stop sign.
Two of the truck’s tires rolled over both of his legs, breaking the tibia of his right leg and tearing the medial collateral ligament and meniscus of that knee. His left leg sustained only bruises and cuts requiring stitches.
“I remember lying on the ground with the back of the truck still
hovering over me and I thought to myself, ‘I have to move away in case
he leaves or in case another car hits me,’” Gleason recalls.
“I pushed myself away from the truck and by doing this I later found out it helped to save my life because, by extending my right leg, it popped my bone back into my skin.”
Just that fast, Gleason’s dream season turned runner’s nightmare.
“You would think that being hit by a truck that ran a four-way stop sign would hurt but to tell you the truth, it really didn’t, it just all happened so fast.”
“I never lost consciousness through the whole ordeal,” Gleason says. “I remember lying on my back and thinking ‘Shit, I have to get up and get home, I have a test at 8:00 a.m.’ I tried to bend my left leg and get up. I could bend it but it hurt to apply weight. I then tried to bend my right leg and there was no response.”
As Gleason explored his new reality, the 64-year-old man who hit him dialed 911.
“I tried sitting up and then all of a sudden, I lost feeling from my waist down and I just remember having so many thoughts running through my head – by this time, the nicest lady knelt beside me holding my head in her lap,” he remembers. “I had thoughts of being paralyzed, I have to run this weekend at the U, but most importantly I was thinking about nationals in three weeks.”
“Then, I remember telling the lady who was holding me that I wasn’t even going to run today. Also at this time, several other people started showing up at the intersection and several of them got out of their cars and took their coats off and laid them over me to keep me warm.”
The ambulance arrived after what “seemed like a lifetime” to Gleason. If the reality of his situation was still dulled to him, the pain no longer was.
“By this time I think the shock and adrenaline of the accident were wearing off because the pain was starting to come full circle now. I just remember that this was one of the worst parts about the accident – being moved into the ambulance from the road – the other was doing my MRI the 3 days after the accident.”
Gleason is quick to note that real ambulance rides are neither as smooth nor as pleasant as they seem on television.
“When I was in the ambulance, the EMTs started cutting off my clothes and accessing my injuries,” he recalls. “When they cut my clothes, is when I started bleeding all over. My spandex acted as support to keep my leg from bleeding and from me losing my leg. By the time I got to the hospital and had my surgery, I had already lost a third of my blood.”
Gleason stopped the EMTs when they wanted to cut off his mittens, however.
“I told them that these are special mittens and you only get them for running at nationals."
It’s funny the things that matter in these moments.
“I asked if my tattoo on my left foot was still their and they said yes and then I asked if I had any marks on my face and they said no and I said then everything is alright.”
“I then asked if I would be running this afternoon at practice and they said that they are not doctors but, if they had to guess, no.”
Instead of practice that afternoon the rest of Gleason’s day went into immediate surgery to reset his broken tibia, insert a rod in the tibia, and drive five screws into his leg. Two days later he had surgery to repair the muscle that was torn away from the lower part of his right leg.
The terrible event did spawn a classic college story for his roommates Chris Yotter, Travis Bristow, and Dan Peterson.
“They said that the cops came into our house at like 7:45 in the morning and were yelling ‘SAINT PAUL POLICE DEPARTMENT’ as they were coming in, as well as coming up the stairs.”
“Travis woke up and met them at the top of the stairs and one of the officers said, ‘Do you live with Brandon Gleason?’”
“They said they just remember looking at each other and thinking to themselves, ‘What the hell did Brandon do this morning.’”
Gleason would spend nine days in the hospital. He only spent two days in a wheelchair after his release – “since it was winter time it was too hard for me to get around in the snow.” He walked with a crutch until Easter and then with a cane until the end of April.
“And in-between all of these stages I was doing morning pool workouts with my coach every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 7:00 a.m. up until the end of school,” he says.
The indoor season came and went, of course. The final all-America place in the NCAA 5000 was 14:50.66.
“I didn’t attend the indoor MIAC conference meet because I didn’t want to get too stressed or to depressed from not running in the meet,” he says, “but mainly because I didn’t want to be the focus of the meet. I wanted the meet to be about our team and mainly the seniors that were running.”
The outdoor season didn’t stop either for the runner the whole conference was cheering for.
“The only frustration I had was that I didn’t get the chance to share the experiences that we talked about entering the fall of 2006,” Gleason said referring to his teammates. “This just means that I was sad because I couldn’t share the experiences of traveling with them to the Missouri relays or going to Drake with them.”
“As you know, we didn’t have a too great of a national’s race in November and from that day on we always talked about how awesome it would have been for all three of us to be All Americans in the 5k. And I truly believe that if I didn’t get hurt we would have been. This is because we worked so well as a pair of three in workouts, running, and just trusting in each other and if I was there it would have been the extra push that was missing.”
Back to nearly 50 miles a week of running by late July – despite two setbacks to manage the pain in the knee of his un-broken leg – Gleason could probably grind out a decent cross country season this fall, all things considered. But his goals are bigger than just getting loud, compassionate applause.
“I plan to run the fall 2008 season of XC,” he says. “My body is used to doing a year cycle which means a good summer of training, leading into fall, then winter and then finishing with a spring. Therefore, by taking a year off of school and just focusing on running and making a comeback, it will allow my body to get back to a cycle.”
“From day one up to now, I have always said I will be in Sports Illustrated
for making a comeback,” he half-jokes. “But in all honesty I never had a chance to even think that a comeback wasn’t possible and this was because my teammates and other teams from across the state as well as the nation said that I would be back and be back faster.”
Gleason has two years of indoor and outdoor track eligibility remaining, but intends to only use one of each since he plans to student teach in Brazil the following year.
“I do not want to be a 24-25 year old undergrad,” he laughs.
Gleason credits his girlfriend of the last three years, Kelsey Kiefer, for no small part of his progress so far.
“She has been my backbone through all of this,” Gleason confides.
“Before the accident, Kelsey always felt like she had to take a back seat to running,” he admits, “because I always had to go to bed early or any spare time I had went towards morning and evening runs, and I was edgy at times during big meets…. so to have her ask me day in and day out if I was going running today meant the world to me.”
“What really helped me get back after it was her telling me that I can do it, that I will make a comeback and that she would understand whatever I had to do to get back to where I was,” he continues. “By her telling me all of this, I think it made me feel so great that I just pushed all of the pain and worries I had aside and to just do it.”
Gleason still admits to feeling knee pain – “like if a runner had an extremely bad side ache affecting your breathing,” but applied to his whole knee.
“I remember doing my first run of my second comeback and [Kelsey] was waiting outside when I got back and she asked how it was?’
“I said it sucked, it hurt.”
She replied, “Get used to it. No one is going to feel sorry for you anymore.”
And Gleason won't expect them to when he comes racing by them again starting in the fall of 2008.