Walk, Run and Roll for Thought event sheds light on traumatic brain injuries

Notable speakers included Bremerton Mayor Greg Wheeler, brain injury survivor Dr. Cheryle Sullivan

Gloomy skies didn’t deter the sixth annual Walk, Run, and Roll for Thought event, a cause devoted to traumatic brain injury awareness and recognition, from being a huge success last Saturday at Lions Park in Bremerton.

This year’s event saw the most community engagement since its inception, event organizer Rick Bonari said. Featured speakers included Bremerton Mayor Greg Wheeler, and retired physician, author and brain injury survivor, Dr. Cheryle Sullivan.

After the speeches were given, those in attendance participated in the event’s first ribbon cutting just before doing a loop around the park. Various booths were also set up to provide information and resources regarding traumatic brain injuries.

“We are here today at this fundraising event to raise awareness for traumatic brain injuries and to directly help, support and advocate for those individuals in Kitsap County and surrounding areas,” Bonari said to start off the event. “For many individuals with traumatic brain injuries, even the small things in life can become daunting.”

Wheeler arrived for a brief moment to give a short speech on brain injuries and the increasing community support of the event.

“I am a Navy veteran and several folks that I served with in one way, shape or form have developed a traumatic brain injury,” Wheeler said. “I can see that this (event) has grown from last year and the year before, and I anticipate this to continue growing and I’m going to be a part of it.”

The next speaker was Sullivan, who addressed her past experiences with concussions and how it has altered her life.

“For most of us dealing with brain injuries, it’s a journey, not a destination,” she began.

Sullivan said she has had six concussions in her lifetime, the first three occurring before the age of 13 from typical kids falls and collisions.

“What people don’t realize is that if you have one concussion, you are three times as likely to have a second,” Sullivan said. “Each one makes you more susceptible.”

Her fourth concussion happened when she was 19 in College after passing out and hitting her head. The fifth one came when she was riding a bike and was hit by a car at the age of 22. Sullivan’s most recent concussion came after a ski fall at the age of 45.

“My memory was a big impairment, I couldn’t process information,” she said. “I wasn’t sure where I was heading and what I was going to do. One day I was this person I had worked my whole life to be. The next day I was a person that even I didn’t recognize.”

Sullivan said she finally realized the importance of finding a new sense of self after her concussions.

“It took a while for me to stop calling myself stupid every time I made mistakes,” she said. “I wasn’t stupid, I just had impairments. I needed to find a new me.”

One of the driving forces behind the success of this cause and event is Janice Worman, Occupational Therapist at Harrison Medical Center in Silverdale. Worman has been an OT for over 25 years and helped start the Walk, Run and Roll for Thought event six years ago. She talked about the challenges that victims of traumatic brain injuries go through.

“I think it’s underdiagnosed because many times people will fall or are in a car accident and will go to the emergency room where the cat scans or MRI’s will come out negative,” Worman said. “They are told they have a concussion and it’s a couple weeks later that they’re not pulling it together. The rest period is over and they don’t know what to do.”

Worman noted that Washington was the first state to incorporate the youth and concussions law, with the rest of the country following suit afterward. She also runs support groups in Bremerton and Silverdale for those suffering from traumatic brain injuries. The Kitsap County support groups were initiated by Dr. Sherwood Young in 1988 until Worman came along in 1996 to take over.

“Our whole mission is to support one another and to really understand your injury,” Worman said. “If you don’t understand why you’re doing what you’re doing, and your family is seeing the behavior, you’re not going to do well. A big part of it is defining what is going on.”

Many of the survivors who joined the support groups pointed out “it was the first time they heard somebody say what they were going through,” Worman said. “I think it’s vital, I think there is a dynamic that occurs in the group that doesn’t occur one-on-one.”

The event’s sponsorship has grown over the years from 3 to 22, Worman said.

“The committee that plans this are all traumatic brain injury survivors except for me,” she said. “I think that is a reflection of what you can do after a brain injury.”

Tyler Shuey is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at tshuey@soundpublishing.com.

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