INDIAN TRAIL – At the age of 3, Brandon Bowles was still learning how to walk. But throughout his 17 years, the Sun Valley High School senior pressed on in the face of adversity and became a well-performing student, a member of the school’s ROTC program and the manager of the school’s junior varsity and varsity basketball teams.
Brandon was born with a heart defect and underwent open-heart surgery when he was barely 2 days old. Because he was attached to a ventilator following the surgery, his mom didn’t even get to hold him for the first four weeks of his life.
“It took a while to get him off the ventilator and get him stable,” Gayle Phillips, Brandon’s mom, said. “We thought everything was great after that.”
But when he was just 6 months old, Brandon wasn’t doing the things children normally do at that age, like sitting up and trying to move around. Tests showed he had another serious condition: cerebral palsy.
Cerebral palsy covers a broad spectrum of physical conditions, Phillips said, but the main element is the body isn’t transmitting messages from the brain to the muscles. Some people living with cerebral palsy can’t speak or feed themselves and some are even wheelchair bound.
Over the course of his life, Brandon has had a handful of surgeries make his body more mobile, including a series of intensive procedures when he was in middle school. But thanks to the procedures, life with cerebral palsy became a little bit easier for Brandon and upon his arrival in high school, he decided to enroll in the school’s ROTC program.
“He wanted to go into ROTC, knowing he’d have no military career, but he fully enjoyed the idea and structure and concept of (the program),” Phillips said.
Despite his physical restrictions, Brandon persevered and gave it his all. He’d run track with the entire ROTC group, sometimes not as fast, sometimes not as graceful, Phillips said, but he’d participate in whatever exercise the rest of the group members were doing.
ROTC instructor B.J. McKay said Brandon has been an inspiration to his peers, silently encouraging them to give 100 percent.
“All the other students saw his attitude, his tenacity,” McKay said. “He showed up every day, ready to go with a smile on his face and ready to work hard. He encouraged other students around him. It never showed that he looked for any sympathy. I’ve seen him fall down and get right back up, without any assistance. He’s truly an inspiration for all that we do.”
A sports-lover, Brandon decided later in his high school career he’d like to get involved with the school’s basketball program. Although he couldn’t play on the team, Brandon was chosen to be the manager for both the junior varsity and varsity basketball teams. He helps the team members get water and wash their uniforms, and he shows up at all the games and practices to cheer for and encourage the players.
“He’s an absolute sports fanatic,” Phillips said. “He can tell you anything about anybody (in) basketball and football, and he loves the Atlanta Braves.”
Brandon also has triumphed in academics, his mom said. Although math, particularly algebra, was his most difficult subject, Brandon applied himself to the fullest, scoring high on his advanced functions math exams and maintaining a high grade point average.
“He’s a very determined kid,” Phillips said, “not wanting to let obstacles get in his way. He’s done an enormous amount of coming into his own as a young man, a young adult.”
On the evening of Feb. 5, the last basketball game of the season, Brandon will be honored along with the rest of the team during a special part of the basketball program’s annual “senior night.” His mom said she’s proud of all he’s accomplished and how he’s become an inspiration to so many.
“Some people with a disability will give up and get so depressed, but Brandon has never done that,” Phillips said. “There have been times when he’s said to me, ‘Why do you think God did this to me?’ and I just always tell him God has a bigger plan and God wants him to show other kids who don’t have any disabilities that you can accomplish your dreams.”
Brandon will graduate in June and plans to go to college, possibly Wingate University, to study sports management. Phillips believes the key to Brandon’s success is his own determination, and also the encouragement he’s received from his friends, family and classmates.
Speaking to other parents who have children with disabilities, Phillips said she advises them to encourage their kids constantly and also find some personal downtime to keep themselves in check.
“It’s OK to ask for help, to take a break,” she said, “whether it’s just to go sit out under a tree and read a book or whatever you need to do rejuvenate yourself to be the best you can be for your child.”
She added, “It’s just knowing each and every day you’re blessed to have your child in your life. If you keep a positive outlook, rejuvenate your batteries and persevere for your child, you’ll learn as much from them as they’ll learn from you.”