Constable: Awards honor accomplishments by people with paralysis
Chris Brennan, the son of Terry Brennan, the youngest head football coach in the history of the University of Notre Dame, built his own sports empire by creating TV and radio stations and later becoming chairman and CEO of a branding company for arenas and stadiums.
The Lake Forest resident and father of eight, 63, heads the Brennan Rehabilitation Foundation, which is giving its Socrates Awards to five achievers, including two from the suburbs: Reveca Torres of Prospect Heights and Dan Tsutsumi of Arlington Heights.
The award provides annual grants to tetraplegics, individuals who have partial or total loss of use of all four limbs and torso due to illness or injury, with economic resources for therapy, equipment, prescriptions and in-home care. It celebrates the Latin credo "mens sana in corpora sano," which translates as "a healthy mind in a healthy body."
Brennan says "the Socrates creed took on a profound meaning for me" after he suffered a spinal cord injury. In 2014, Brennan was at the peak of his business career when he fell on vacation in Sedona, Arizona, and was left paralyzed from the shoulders down after a subsequent accident during surgery.
"There is nothing that is tougher than this," Brennan says of the rehab that now has him able to stand and walk with a walker. "I am honored to award these individuals who recognize that like a sport, life itself is full of incredible highs and frustrating lows, and that the daily pursuit of a healthy mind and a healthy body in the face of adversity is the true testament of one's character."
Award-recipient and acclaimed artist Reveca Torres, 39, grew up in Des Plaines and was paralyzed in a car crash at age 13, losing the use of her legs and limiting movements in her arms, hands and fingers. A graduate of Palatine High School and Harper College, Torres earned a bachelor's degree in theater arts, with an emphasis in costume design, in 2004 from the University of Arizona.
"The work that I do, I do from my own personal experience and what I've lived through. It's really important to be there for our community. That's why I do it," says Torres, whose work can be found at revecatorres.com. "For a long time I did try to keep my disability advocacy separate from my art. The way I create my art is influenced by my disability. It's more impactful and more meaningful to me."
Award recipient Dan Tsutsumi spent eight years serving in the Marine Corps and survived two tours in Iraq. In 2012, while swimming with friends in Lake Michigan along a Chicago beach, he dove into the water and snapped the fifth vertebrae of his spinal cord.
Brennan says he understands the effort Tsutsumi, 34, makes just to get out of bed.
"It's not only physical, but it's mental," Brennan says.
The other recipients of the 2020 Socrates Award are: Adam Craig of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, who was paralyzed in a diving accident in 2018, has fought to breathe and cough on his own and is slowly regaining some function in his arms; Chicago resident Mya Lynn, who was paralyzed during an attempted kidnapping, testified in court to convict the assailant who shot her, and was named Ms. Wheelchair Illinois in 2020; and Bryon Riesch of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who was paralyzed in an accident in 1998 while a student at Marquette University, went on to get his degree and start a career in IT, and has raised more than $4 million to fund medical research through his Bryon Riesch Paralysis Foundation.
Recognizing the accomplishments of these five helps inspire others, Brennan says, adding that each award winner will receive a $1,000 grant now, with that amount expected to increase in future years according to the foundation's fundraising efforts.
When Torres tells others with similar injuries that she lives independently, drives, works, earned college degrees and wins recognition as an artist, "you can always hear the sense of relief," she says. "Sharing that always helps people wrap their mind around that."
In 2009, she founded Backbones, a charity that helps people with spinal cord injuries.
"I'm currently developing a summer program for teens with spinal cord injuries, to teach them how to be independent and apply to colleges and find jobs," Torres says.
That is the kind of work that Brennan wants to honor.
"It gets better each day," Brennan says. "But each day is a new challenge."