Event spotlight: Brian's Run was started to help a friend; now it helps a community

Brians Song, the TV movie about the Chicago Bears great Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo, who died of cancer at 26, touched many people 30 years ago.

These days Brians Run is having a similar effect on the folks of West Chester, Pa., where the 23rd running takes place Dec. 3. There's still time to register online for the run.

The event, at West Chester University, features a one-mile open fun run/walk at 11 a.m., a 5K run/walk at 11:30 a.m., a one-mile run for kids 11 years and under at 12:30 p.m. and a 10K at 1 p.m. that will attract some world-class runners including a host of Kenyans who train in the area.

Brians Run began in 1978 as a one-time fund-raising event to benefit Brian Bratcher, a West Chester high school football player, who sustained a life-challenging spinal cord injury at the age of 15 during a scrimmage.

Bratcher, playing for Chester Henderson High, was paralyzed that year, and his friends, their parents, and the community as a whole wanted to help.

They organized a race and hoped to raise $500. That first year 2,000 runners participated, and more than $20,000 was raised to help Brian with his expenses.

After 1979, Bratcher believed that he had benefited enough from the proceeds and asked to have the race benefit others. Over the last 22 years Brians run has raised more than $430,000 for disabled people from the community who need help with physical mobility, seeing and communication.

Bratcher, now 39, is still very active with the event and has been at each race every year.

In 1995, West Chester University offered to formally give Brians Run a home and assist with the year-round planning. The Brians Run Executive Committee decided to help students needing assistance. Portions of the money raised by the charity race are targeted to assist West Chester University physically challenged students needing assistance and physical equipment to complete their studies and maintain a good quality of life.

A blind student who competed in Brians Run in 1996 received funding toward the purchase of a Braille and Speak machine to allow her to take classroom notes.

Funds were provided for an organization to produce a video that highlights disabled athletes that was directed by a filmmaker with a disability.

Brians Run recently helped a family renovate their home to enable their wheelchair-bound son to travel from his room to the other parts of their house without assistance. In the past Brians Run also paid the fees for developmentally disabled community children to participate in a camp designed to help disabled and non-disabled siblings grow together through the use of physical education.

We are not a run that benefits a charity, we are a run and a charity, said Lawrence J. Persick, a member of the Executive Committee and public relations director of Brians Run.

We are our own charity and we have a beneficiary committee that is tied in with American With Disabilities Act Office at West Chester University, Persick said. Some of our local county agencies identify people who have a particular need and suggest to them that they apply for funding. And our beneficiary committee screens the applicants and then makes suggestions to our Executive Committee. And our Executive Committee approves the grants.

Persick says he expects to have a strong elite field in the 10K run.

There is a group of Kenyan runners who live in West Chester and another group who lives in nearby Royersford, Pa., Persick said. This race is usually the last one of the season before they head back home. In addition to the Kenyans we have had a number of Europeans and Moroccans who have competed in this race over the years.

Persick has been involved in the planning end of the race for the last five years after having run in the event for a dozen years.

Its great having been on both sides, Persick said. Every year Brian comes to the dinner the night before the race and hes at the race too. Hes an inspiration to a lot of the people who run and to those who are just watching the race.

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