By Lorraine Longhi, Oct. 23, 2014.
Across-country bike ride would prove to be a grueling task for even the most highly trained cyclists.
But for Catherine Brubaker, two-time traumatic brain injury survivor, it’s a challenge that has a special significance.
In 2010, the 43-year-old Tempe native’s world was upended after she and her (then) partner were assaulted. Deprived of oxygen to her brain, Brubaker suffered an anoxic brain injury and, in the years the followed, had to relearn how to walk, talk and interact socially.
As a result, simple things such as driving and cooking suddenly become immense challenges, Brubaker explained. Her professional and personal life — which she described “perfect” — had unraveled.
“I thought everything was going the way I had planned, but life had a different plan,” Brubaker said. “I got really depressed for a long time, discouraged about life and was just trying to function on my own. It took a long time to heal.”
But Brubaker credits her recovery to two significant events: connecting with Artists for Trauma, an organization dedicated to helping trauma victims heal with the aid of art projects, and trading in her walker for a recumbent tricycle, or trike.
“That was the day I got my freedom back,” Brubaker said, “it changed my life.”
Brubaker started out slowly, riding her trike with her brother to work, and gradually built up enough stamina to ride from Tempe to her grandmother’s house in Chandler.
It was through riding that Brubaker met Dan Zimmerman, a stroke survivor and her companion for the coast-to-coast ride. Together, Brubaker and Zimmerman are traveling 5,200 miles over five months on their trikes.
“When Dan first told me about the trip, I said to myself, ‘I’m doing this, I don’t care what it takes, I’m doing it,’” Brubaker said. “I’m blessed to be on this trip. For the first time since my injury I feel joy and freedom.”
Brubaker and Zimmerman’s goal for their journey — which began in Anacortes, Wash., June 29 and will conclude in Key West, Fla., at the end of November — is to raise awareness of traumatic brain injuries and to raise money for stroke research.
Brubaker said she hopes this will be a positive message for those experiencing feelings of frustration and desperation that she experienced only a few short years ago.
“It’s easy to listen to doctors or listen to negative messages in society and just sit in front of the TV and not have a purpose,” Brubaker said. “It feels so much better to have blood pumping to your brain. My thoughts are clearer. My body is healthier. I have a new sense of freedom.”
Brubaker purchased her trike from Sun Cyclery, a Phoenix bike shop founded in 1976, and worked closely with manager Joe DeLong, also a victim of a brain injury, to prepare for her journey and build a production trike cut specifically to her height and dimensions.
“Getting people active is the best thing,” DeLong said. “It’s amazing to see the recovery people have when they get out and exercise. She’s come so far and riding has made her really sharp.”
Brubaker said she’s also received support from several individuals and groups within the LGBT community. And, more than anything, she wants her story to reassure anyone with similar experience(s) that nothing can stand in the way of their recovery.
“I want other people who have limitations, or think they have limitations and no purpose from their disability, to feel this type of freedom,” Brubaker said. “We can stand up together in situations like this and support each other in these kinds of circumstances. For people who have brain injuries or PTSD like me, we can understand them and we can inspire them. I want to be an inspiration to others.”
For more information and updates on Catherine’s journey, visit gofundme.com/catsrideforlife.