An inspiration without the ‘I’

Nathan Bragg chosen medal bearer for Rick Hansen Man in Motion 25th Anniversary Relay Wednesday in Maple Ridge.

There’s a lot more to Nathan Bragg than his wheelchair.

There’s a lot more to Nathan Bragg than his wheelchair.

If there’s anything that makes Nathan Bragg cringe, it’s what he calls, “The ‘I’ Word.”

“Inspirational,” he says, rolling his eyes. “It’s the one word I can’t stand.”

By any metric, Bragg is an exceptional human being. Thanks to his 92 per cent average in his Grade 12 classes at Maple Ridge Secondary School, he recently landed a $12,000 scholarship to attend Carleton University’s journalism program this September.

His athletic accomplishments are long, having made the roster for two provincial sports teams, and competing in the Canada Winter Games last year in Halifax.

But Bragg doesn’t see himself as inspirational, though others certainly do. He’s just another 18-year-old kid, trying to find his way, and doing the best he can.

He just happens to be in a wheelchair.

“There’s a lot more to me than my wheelchair,” he says. “I don’t focus on what I can’t do. Neither should anyone else.”

Bragg was born with cerebral palsy, and though he suffers no mental impediment, he struggles to control his limbs and his movements are spastic. While he can walk for short distances with some difficulty, much of his life is spent in the seat of his wheelchair.

Bragg was chosen to take part in the Rick Hansen Man in Motion 25th Anniversary Relay this Wednesday as the medal bearer representing Maple Ridge when the relay rolls through town. For Bragg, it’s both an honour and surprise to be taking part.

“To be honoured as a difference maker is great, but to be honest I don’t feel I’ve done that much,” he says.

Many would disagree with him.

After attending the B.C. Easter Seals Camps since he was six years old, Bragg became an official ambassador for the charity in 2009. Last year, Bragg raised more than $1,300 at the annual Easter Seals 24 Hour Relay, allowing 11 campers to have the opportunity to go to camp.

Bragg also help found the Langley Gold Rush wheelchair basketball team, which he currently coaches.

For Bragg, it was Rick Hansen himself who helped show him that just because he was in a wheelchair, it didn’t mean he couldn’t do great things.

“He showed the world that,” he says. “He’s been so important to so many peoples lives.”

And like Hansen, Bragg is an athlete.

He was introduced to the sport of wheelchair basketball in the sixth grade after a demonstration at his elementary school, and by 2008, was playing for the B.C. junior team. In 2010, Bragg was named the B.C. Wheelchair Basketball Society Junior Athlete of the Year.

“I was never the fastest player on the court, but I always knew where I had to be,” he says.

Due to mobility issues in his arms, Bragg has difficulty shooting the ball. But Bragg soon discovered the sport of wheelchair rugby, which he says is better suited to his abilities. He fell in love with the sport after watching the 2005 documentary Murderball, which chronicles the rivalry between the Canadian and American wheelchair rugby teams ahead of the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece.

“I knew about it before I saw the movie, but seeing that made we want to play,” he says.

The sport requires less fine motor skills that wheelchair basketball, and a lot more aggression, something Bragg appreciates.

Life in a wheelchair can be fraught with frustration, and when Bragg first entered high school, those frustrations got the better of him at times.

“I was an angry kid,” he admits. “Kids can be cruel, and sometimes I overreacted.”

Wheelchair rugby gave him a constructive outlet for his aggression, he says.

That aggression is apparent on Bragg’s aluminum rugby wheelchair, which is so beaten and battered, it looks as though it might fall to pieces the next hit it takes.

The chair is built out of spare parts and a secondhand frame jerry-rigged together with the help of his dad, John.

Bragg is hoping to build a new $5,000 custom rugby wheelchair with the help of a $2,700 grant from the Challenged Athletes Foundation.

“I’m a little guy, but when I get in that chair and when I get on the court, that feeling disappears,” he says.

Bragg made the B.C. men’s rugby team this year and was the youngest player at nationals, where the team finished fourth. His next goal: Playing for Canada at the Paralympic Games.

While he says his condition doesn’t define him, he doesn’t deny that it is a huge part of his identity.

“It’s an integral part of who I am, for better or worse,” he says. “But I don’t see it as a limitation, it’s just a part of life.”

There’s no benefit in feeling sorry for yourself, he says. Just focus on what you can do, not what you can’t.

• Nathan Bragg will bring the Rick Hansen Man in Motion 25th Anniversary Relay Medal to Memorial Peace Park at 6 p.m., Wednesday, May 16, with a day-end celebration to follow.

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