"What is my motto? I guess it will be 'LIVE.' You can't live in the past. You can't live in the future. You just have to live."
“The first year the Bionic 5k was held on the 10th anniversary of my stroke. I came to the 5k as part of Connor Walsh’s team, planning to wear the prototype of the robotic exosuit that his lab has been working on. It helps me to walk even though I am partially paralyzed from a stroke. While my left leg works perfectly, my right is semi- paralyzed. When I wear the suit, I actually end up building muscle and I feel the burn. That first year it rained and the device is not yet waterproof. So I put on my old-fashioned brace and walked it. But at the second Bionic 5k we got to see what the device could do.
13 years ago, I thought I was going to get my PhD in chemistry and I thought life was going one way. Then I had a stroke and it changed everything. But I can't say that it is regrettable. There are so many people that I have met that I wouldn't have met and things that I've done that I never would have done. If you just open your eyes, there's always something good. I was a very type A personality with a clear plan for what was next and next and next. I try not to do that anymore. I try to go with the flow more.
I’m a librarian. That's actually what I did when I was in high school. I was a page which is like a little librarian. I went to school for chemistry. I got my masters, had a stroke, didn’t feel that I was where I belonged. So, I came home. I live with my mom, four cats, three dogs, and an outdoor rabbit. It’s been a full year that I've been working full time at the library. It's great. It's not so much about the books these days. It's actually more about community service. It's really fun and a dynamic place to work.
I really like to walk. When I lived in Boston and I would have a day off and I would just go - from JP to Central Square, Downtown to Cambridge. I love days like that. I use my brace which is limited, but I can walk, so I'm happy. I used to walk all the time in the Blue Hills. I love the Skyline Trail, which I cannot do now. But I have done the Red Line Trail. It’s a challenge but it's doable. At home in New Bedford, I normally walk one of my dogs a mile and half to three miles a day, three miles if I go twice.
I'm very competitive. I’ve done two other 5ks post-stroke. But at the Bionic 5k, it's not about beating anybody, it's about completing the race. It's a whole different mindset. I can't go as fast as I usually go because the device is not ready for it. So, I have to pace myself. It’s not so much about the final finish line, it's more about every step. I do come in last and now I'm okay with it. I'm a part of testing a new technology idea so I find that I'm progressing.
What is my motto? I guess it will be “LIVE.” You can't live in the past. You can't live in the future. You just have to live.
What advice would I give someone who recently had a stroke? A lot of people who have a stroke focus on the story of how and when they had a stroke. And I'm like, well, what do you plan to do tomorrow? What can you do now? What is your goal? You have to kind of drag their focus to what they can do, what small improvement they can make so that they have something to live up to. You can always do something to make your life better.
What song makes me feel good? I like Happy by Pharrell. A lot of times when you talk about happiness it is happiness because of a person. But that song is happy just for the sake of being happy.”
- Brenna, Bionic 5k athlete