Brebeuf grad hopes for Mini-Marathon comeback

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Brigette Schutzman, 26, calls Saturday's Mini-Marathon "the most important thing in my life right now, in terms of goals."

The Carmel woman is signed up to do the half marathon. She's been training for it for months, logging lots of miles.

"Anything I can get into that puts me in that race mentality and race environment I hope and pray and know is going to be what brings me back," she said.

Brigette ran cross country and track at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School and then, St. Louis University, where she made varsity as a walk-on. She was a collegiate standout until a terrible accident her sophomore year.

"They gave me a one-percent chance of survival through the night and they were talking organ transplants with my parents," Brigette explained.

The afternoon of New Years Eve, 2007, Brigette was driving to a friend's home near Peoria, Illinois when she lost control on an icy road and collided with another car. She fractured her pelvis and suffered a traumatic brain injury, which led to two strokes. She spent 97 days in the hospital and rehab.

"They told my mom when she was stretching my legs and ankle, when I was comatose...they said, 'your daughter's never going to run again. She's never even going to walk again,'" said Brigette.

But the doctors didn't know Brigette.

"People say, 'Brigette, don't stop, don't quit.' They told me that in the hospital, when I was sedentary, just lying there and in my head I was like, 'Are you serious? What do you think I'm going to do? Just lie here and stay this way my whole life?'  No," she recalls.

Nearly seven years later, Brigette is determined to finish the Mini, but knows it won't be easy.

Walking the track at NIFS, she said, "I don't like it when people can notice I'm limping or ask me what happened. I'm like, 'Darn it, I'm not doing it right,'" she said. "Strides need to be perfect, perfect timing and balance."

The two strokes affected movement in Brigette's left foot.

She uses a Bioness L300 Foot Drop System to help her stride. The device stimulates her leg muscles to lift up her front foot. She controls her gait with a electronic sensor.

As Brigette says, the difference in how she walks with it on is amazing. But even with the device, she needs to focus on each and every step.

She says, "I'm thinking one, one, two, two, three, three."

Brigette knows even without doing the Mini, she's overcome great odds. Asked how, she says, "It's 100% God and then me and everyone who's encouraged me."

She says her faith has been critical to her recovery.

"Even if they say you can't do it, having the faith, the faith in God that if you push through, that miracles can happen," she said.

Brigette's counting on at least one more.

"I remember telling my mom, 'Mom, when I can run again I'm going to keep going and going and going, I will never stop running," she said.

With each step, she gets ever closer.

Saturday, Brigette plans to power walk the Mini with "three of my boyfriends," high school friends who, like many others, have cheered her comeback every step of the way.

500 Festival Mini-Marathon