Success Story: Prosthetic Leg for Running, in Fort Wayne, Indiana

  • Olympic Training Center, Chula Vista, CA
  • San Diego State University – 1.07.86 seconds in the 400 meter
  • Endeavor Games – Edmond, OK
  • U.S. Paralympic Track & Field – Arizona State University
  • U.S. Paralympic Track & Field – Atlanta, GA
  • BT Paralympic World Cup – Manchester, England
  • Sponsor Athlete – Powerbar’s Elite Team
  • Sponsor Athlete – Ossur
  • Bachelor’s Degree – University of Saint Francis in Health & Exercise Science
  • Personal Best – 57.57 in the 400 meter

Loss of leg doesn’t faze USF athlete


Thursday, April 17, 2008

In many ways, Brett Freiburger was too bullheaded to die. Now he’s too bullheaded to quit. That stubbornness might make him one of the best in the world.

Freiburger was a Bishop Luers senior on Dec. 2, 2001, when he and buddy Zack Zoll went hunting in Steuben County. At a parking spot by Marsh Lake, a truck driven by Norwell assistant principal Ken Folk pulled up. Freiburger had gone to Norwell for two years before transferring to Luers.

After talking for a few minutes, Folk drove on and Freiburger laid his gun on the top of a folded-over fence so he could climb into a tree. He figured then he’d reach down and grab the 12-gage semi-automatic.

“I just stepped up onto the fence with my left foot and the gun fell down and it went off three times and the third time it hit me in the leg,” Freiburger said.

Though the safety was on, the touchy trigger may have caught on a barb in the fence. The sabot slug went in the outside of his left calf and out the other side, nine inches below his knee. Zoll heard the gun go off and Freiburger start yelling and figured his friend had shot a deer, but then he ran over, saw the blood and took off his belt for a tourniquet. He stuck his fingers in the wound to keep pressure on the artery.

“He kept his wits about him,” Freiburger said. “I don’t know if I would have at that point.” Folk, who also thought someone had shot a deer, turned back and, when he saw what happened, called 911.

“Time was pretty much standing still for me,” Freiburger said. “You see in the movies where people are acting like they are dying (from the pain), but I was in shock more than anything. I figured it would be a lot more painful than it was.”

Doctors eventually performed 12 surgeries on Freiburger’s leg through March, when they realized they could not fight off the infection that had developed under the screws and plates holding it together. Doctors told him there was a 35 percent chance they could save the leg.

“By that time I had been laid up for four months, and I was just sick of it, and I was missing my senior year,” he said. “The doctors said I’d probably be better off if it was amputated because I’d have more mobility.”

He ended up with a lot more. Now 24 and a University of Saint Francis junior studying to become a physical therapist, Freiburger has also become a runner and hopes to compete in the Paralympics in Beijing next fall.

A former soccer player at Bishop Luers, Freiburger was hoping to continue his career on the pitch but found out the sport was not part of the Paralympics. He decided to try running and now competes in the 200 and 400 meters. When he started last March, his times were 28.8 and 1:07. By the end of the season, his times were 26.53 seconds and 58.58 seconds. His goals are 23 seconds and 53 seconds.

In June he’ll compete in the national championships in Tempe, Ariz. At one point he was ranked 14th in the world in the 200 and eighth in the 400. He figures he can climb quite a bit higher this spring. So do his sponsors, Powerbar and Ossur, and his coach, Ken Matsuda, who has coached 85 world-record holders.

Ironically, several people told him not to even try running in the first place.

“It’s just something I wanted to do to prove to myself that I could when other people were doubting me and saying I couldn’t,” he said.