Sunday, November 1, 2009

Bree McMahon lost a leg — not her spirit

Mike Bianchi has the follow up story on Bree McMahon, the soccer player who lost her leg in a freak accident. We admire her spirit as well.

A visitor brought her a welcome-home gift Thursday and set the book on the coffee table by where she was sitting.

Bree McMahon looked at the title — 100 Trailblazers: Great Women Athletes Who Opened Doors for Future Generations — and asked hopefully: "You think maybe someday I'll be in that book?"

I wouldn't doubt it.

I would never, ever doubt this living, breathing 17-year-old human Hallmark card of courage and class.

After six weeks, eight surgeries and a million prayers, Bree is finally home from the hospital. She left her normal life one morning last month as a carefree teenage girl on her way to a carwash fundraiser to raise money for her club soccer team. She came home Wednesday evening as a national symbol of inspiration and hope.

NBC's Today show was in town this week taping a segment on her that will air on Thanksgiving. Cards and donations have been sent from all over the country. One elderly gentleman sent a $10 check to the Sentinel a few days ago. It was all he could afford, but he wanted to do something — anything — for Bree.

"It makes me want to cry when people tell me I am an inspiration to them," Bree says. "I never knew there were so many wonderful people out there."

By now you probably know the story. Bree was at the carwash, getting ready to wash a car driven by one of her best friends and teammates. The driver's foot slipped off the brake and hit the gas. The car surged forward and pinned Bree against a brick wall.

Her lower extremities were crushed.

Her left leg had to be amputated; her right leg had to be rebuilt.

Yet she has miraculously grown stronger than ever, particularly her heart, guts and nerve.

She says without hesitation that she is determined to play soccer again, even though her road to recovery will be long and arduous. Asked Thursday whether she is still in pain from the surgeries and the trauma, she answers bluntly: "I think I'm always going to be in some pain. It's just something you have to get used to."

She is so eager to get back on the field, she all but forces her father, David, to load her wheelchair into the van Thursday so she can go watch her team practice at Freedom High School.

Only one day removed from a hospital bed, she craves being out in the hot sun on the green grass with her good friends. When she arrives, practice stops, and her teammates start screaming and squealing: "It's Bree! It's Bree!"

"How's our beautiful captain?" yells one of the girls as they all sprint over, hug her and crowd around Bree's wheelchair.

They talk and laugh and ask questions: Bree, are you going to prom? Are you going to homecoming? Bree shows them how she uses the straps of her leg brace as the perfect holder for her cell phone. One of her teammates gently strokes Bree's long, blond ponytail as the girls catch up on the latest high-school gossip.

Then coach Bobby Sauer comes over and presents an armband that designates Bree as one of the captains of the team. A cheer goes up, and Bree makes her first decree as captain: "OK, freshmen, don't forget: It's your job to carry the equipment."

The girls begin their team chant:

"Who are we? Freedom!

Who are we? Freedom!

Photo: Gary S. Green/Orlando Sentinel

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