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 inauspicious 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 sudden 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 sudden and wanted, however in Brewer’s case, the Paralympic workforce was solely a current quest and never one thing he had ever even thought of whereas struggling by means of years of inauspicious challenges.

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

In 2008 on the age of 32, Brewer was recognized 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 remedy led to a prescription drug dependancy 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 mentioned. “I started abusing pharmaceuticals, and after I was reduce off from them, I started utilizing heroin.”

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

From drug addict to paraplegic

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

“Once I was in jail, I advised 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 following 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 development service at a Toys R Us in Lengthy Seaside. He ended up assembly somebody and had hopes of a relationship. Nonetheless, when that relationship did not work out, Brewer mentioned he turned to the one factor he knew would numb the ache: heroin.

“Once you’re in rehab, you are taught a variety of nice issues that can assist you keep sober, however one factor that I wasn’t ready to cope with was rejection,” Brewer mentioned. “Reasonably than calling my sponsor, I referred to as my drug vendor.”

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

The amputations triggered unimaginable ache to his legs and to the portion of his legs that had been now not there — one thing referred to as phantom ache. With a purpose to alleviate the ache, it might require the issues that began all of it: opiates.

Discovering hope and love

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

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

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

Brewer bought linked with an amputee advocate who then linked 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 mentioned it took him six months earlier than he had even tried them on. Actually, he mentioned 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, an authorized prosthetist with Hanger Clinic. She requested Brewer a query that may 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 advised 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 speak about 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 previous buddies, and I used to be in a position to rise up on a board and experience!” he mentioned. “The issue is, this can be very exhausting to snowboard with out knees, so I bought drained actually simply.”

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

“Wendy advised 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 bounce! 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, pondering it might take that lengthy to be taught the game and get good at competing. He moved to Utah in 2020 to stay with Remington, who’s now his girlfriend, and to coach with the Skills Heart in Park Metropolis.

Sadly, the pandemic would deprive him of two seasons’ price of competitors, with 2021 being his first actual season of racing. Brewer took to it rapidly and began inserting 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 exhausting and learning to know precisely what I wanted to do to qualify,” Brewer mentioned. “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 do exactly that, by incomes two gold medals in big 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 mentioned that he’s ecstatic, grateful and humbled as he appears to be like 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 mentioned. “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 dependancy and from changing into a paraplegic.

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

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

To observe Brewer’s progress, he might 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 will likely be utilized for the good thing about the individuals named as beneficiaries. In case you are contemplating a deposit to the account, you need to seek the advice of your personal advisers and in any other case proceed at your personal danger.


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