Cancer, drugs, then losing legs: This Utahn’s road to the Paralympics hasn’t been easy

Matthew Brewer raises his ski after receiving a gold medal on the Huntsman Video games in Park Metropolis on Feb. 12. After years of adverse struggles, he’ll quickly be competing in Beijing as a Paralympic athlete for Staff USA. (Wendy Remington)

Estimated learn time: 7-8 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — It was as surprising because it was relentlessly wanted.

Matthew Brewer of Salt Lake Metropolis bought the information on Feb. 16 that he had earned a spot on the Paralympic Staff to symbolize Staff USA in monoskiing in Beijing this coming month.

Now it might be unusual to say that one thing is each surprising and wanted, however in Brewer’s case, the Paralympic workforce was solely a current quest and never one thing he had ever even considered whereas struggling by means of years of adverse challenges.

Brewer, 46, virtually did not make it — not to mention turn out to be a Paralympian.

In 2008 on the age of 32, Brewer was identified with testicular most cancers that required chemotherapy and took heavy doses of opiates to alleviate the ache. And whereas the chemo efficiently killed the most cancers, the treatment led to a prescription drug habit that almost took his life.

“After chemotherapy, I used to be prescribed ache relievers that labored effectively to alleviate the bodily ache I used to be in, however they labored rather well at relieving the psychological ache,” Brewer stated. “I started abusing pharmaceuticals, and once I was lower off from them, I started utilizing heroin.”

The drug habit lasted 5 years, however throughout these years, Brewer stated, it bought worse earlier than it bought higher.

From drug addict to paraplegic

After 4 and a half years spending his life searching for his subsequent repair, Brewer discovered himself in jail for possession of heroin, the place he spent the subsequent three months sober. It was throughout that point, Brewer stated, that he hoped for an intervention — something to assist him.

“Once I was in jail, I informed myself that if my household did an intervention, I might settle for the assistance,” Brewer recalled.

His household did have an intervention, and Brewer accepted the assistance, spending the subsequent three months at a rehabilitation facility. Between jail and rehab, he was six months sober, and he was able to rebuild his approach to a wholesome and productive life. On the time, Brewer was dwelling in California and took a job working business building service at a Toys R Us in Lengthy Seashore. He ended up assembly somebody and had hopes of a relationship. Nonetheless, when that relationship did not work out, Brewer stated he turned to the one factor he knew would numb the ache: heroin.

“Once you’re in rehab, you are taught a whole lot of nice issues that will help you keep sober, however one factor that I wasn’t ready to take care of was rejection,” Brewer stated. “Quite than calling my sponsor, I referred to as my drug vendor.”

Quickly, Brewer discovered himself handed out in a rest room for 18 hours after a heroin overdose. That period of time prompted what is known as compartment syndrome in his legs, which is a results of a protracted lack of circulation. Due to that, Brewer would wish to have each of his legs amputated above the knee.

The amputations prompted unimaginable ache to his legs and to the portion of his legs that had been not there — one thing referred to as phantom ache. To be able to alleviate the ache, it will require the issues that began all of it: opiates.

Discovering hope and love

“On the hospital, the physician informed my mother that I might be on opiates the remainder of my life, and she or he simply cried,” Brewer recalled. “I made a decision I used to be simply going to take them as prescribed, but it surely was laborious. I’ve a sister who has been my greatest supporter, and she or he would all the time wag her finger at me and say, ‘You are overmedicating.'”

It was his sister who Brewer stated helped take the steps not solely out of a life destined for extra drug habit, however towards therapeutic.

“My sister is a hairstylist in Lengthy Seashore, and she or he had a reference to a producer on the present ‘Medical doctors,'” Brewer stated. “I went on the present, and so they began me on an experimental remedy referred to as transcranial magnetic stimulation that targeted on treating despair. It was then when my life began coming again.”

Brewer bought related with an amputee advocate who then related him with the Hanger Clinic, and he was in a position to get some prosthetics. Nonetheless, with the quantity of weight he had gained, Brewer stated it took him six months earlier than he had even tried them on. Actually, he stated it wasn’t till he went to what’s referred to as, Bilateral Above-Knee Amputee Boot Camp in 2017, that he was in a position to not solely learn to use his prosthetics however to have the ability to make targets for the long run.

Round that very same time, he met Wendy Remington, a licensed prosthetist with Hanger Clinic. She requested Brewer a query that will change his trajectory.

“Wendy requested me one time what it was about my former life that I needed to get again into,” Brewer recalled. “I informed her that I needed to get again into snowboarding.”

Brewer spoke about not solely loving to snowboard as a youth, however being ranked 14th within the nation at one time. He defined that when Remington heard him discuss his love of snowboarding, she inspired him to come back out to Utah, the place she was from, so she might take him snowboarding.

“I made it to Salt Lake, and Wendy took me snowboarding with one among my outdated associates, and I used to be in a position to rise up on a board and journey!” he stated. “The issue is, this can be very laborious to snowboard with out knees, so I bought drained actually simply.”

That is when Remington launched Brewer to monoskiing, which is analogous to snowboarding, however the place each legs are clamped right into a single ski.

“Wendy informed me I wanted to strive monoskiing, and instantly I used to be hooked,” Brewer recalled. “I might go quick, really feel the wind in my hair and I might soar! I felt like myself for the primary time once more!”

Making the Paralympic workforce

This was in 2018, and Brewer was simply studying the game, however the competitor in him needed extra. He bought a grant from the Challenged Athletes Basis to get his monoski in 2019, and set his sights on the 2026 Paralympic Video games in Italy, considering it will take that lengthy to be taught the game and get good at competing. He moved to Utah in 2020 to dwell with Remington, who’s now his girlfriend, and to coach with the Skills Middle in Park Metropolis.

Sadly, the pandemic would deprive him of two seasons’ value of competitors, with 2021 being his first actual season of racing. Brewer took to it shortly and began putting at massive competitions. This previous December, he positioned fourth at a contest in Panorama, Canada, incomes him a letter from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, recognizing him as a possible candidate to qualify for the Beijing Paralympics.

“After getting that letter, I began coaching laborious and learning to know precisely what I wanted to do to qualify,” Brewer stated. “I discovered that I wanted to make podium at two out of my 4 occasions.”

On Feb. 12, on the Huntsman Cup in Park Metropolis, Brewer was in a position to just do that, by incomes two gold medals in large slalom and a 3rd bronze medal in slalom. Days later, he was knowledgeable that he had been chosen to symbolize Staff USA on the Paralympic Video games.

Brewer stated that he’s ecstatic, grateful and humbled as he seems to be again at the place he was once and appears at the place he stands now as a Paralympian.

“I am 13 years cancer-free, and I’ve had eight years of sobriety,” Brewer stated. “What I hope is for folks to know that restoration is feasible. Not solely did I get better from most cancers, however I recovered from drug habit and from turning into a paraplegic.

“I hope folks see that there’s hope even whenever you really feel like there is no left.”

Brewer will go away Monday for Beijing, and the Paralympic Video games are scheduled March 4-13.

To comply with Brewer’s progress, he may be discovered on Instagram @6packbrew. He additionally has a GoFundMe account that’s set as much as assist him with prices as he continues his journey as an adaptive athlete.

* doesn’t guarantee that the cash deposited to the account can be utilized for the advantage of the individuals named as beneficiaries. In case you are contemplating a deposit to the account, you must seek the advice of your individual advisers and in any other case proceed at your individual threat.


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