Marion University’s cycling team has long been nationally renowned, boasting 16 national track championship wins and recruiting some of the country’s best athletes. So it was no small feat for 24-year-old triple amputee Moise Brutus to make the cut for this year’s team. But for Brutus, joining a team of world-class able-bodied athletes is just the beginning.
Change of plans
Brutus had been a student at Miami Dade College for 2 years when a motorcycle accident changed everything.
“I was out with some friends and I took this exit I was not familiar with. It was dark. I remember looking down to turn on my high beams and when I did that, something reflected back to me. I kind of panicked and woke up in a ditch, found my phone, called 911 and made it to the hospital,” he said.
Brutus underwent a transtibial amputation on his right leg, a transfemoral amputation on the left leg and a transradial amputation on his left arm. In addition to the physical challenges he faced, Brutus struggled with the loss of his insurance and has since become an outspoken proponent of Medicaid reform. He has experienced both traditional Medicaid and a pilot program called Medicaid Cure, based in Florida. Brutus would like to see the national program adopt the benefits of the Florida program for amputees.
“I just like to speak out in hopes that it will get better,” he said. “I feel like the one size fits all system doesn’t work, especially for younger folks like me. We need these devices to better our lives. If we want to go back to school and better ourselves, I think they should be able to provide us with the prostheses we need to succeed.”
Once Brutus was fitted with adequate prostheses, he was ready to improve his life in other areas. Recently he was offered a full scholarship to attend Marion University as a member of the cycling team. He will pursue a bachelor’s degree in management with a minor in health care administration.
Full speed ahead
The acceptance onto the team is just the beginning for Brutus, according to Stan Patterson, CP, his prosthetist and founder of Prosthetic & Orthotic Associates in Orlando, Fla.
“That is just a big milestone,” Patterson said of the cycling scholarship. “It is one thing if you are [cycling competitively] as a transtibial amputee, but when you are missing one leg above the knee, one below and your arm – you cannot forget that, because in the type of cycling that he does, you are pulling a lot with your upper body, especially when you are off the saddle and you are trying to make a move with the pack – it is amazing. He realized he cannot work just as hard as everybody else. He has to work twice as hard as everybody else to keep up with the able-bodied people.”
“I am very grateful to be part of [the team],” Brutus said. “All my teammates are national champions. So I will definitely be a national champion in the future.”
As if that were not enough, he also hopes to qualify for the U.S. Paralympic Cycling Team and compete at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games.
Brutus said preparation for joining the team was key.
“The number one thing, I think, was just to make sure that my prostheses were up to par. Up to that point I was not using any new technology. So one of the main things – and the coach emphasized this – was to come there with my prostheses able to keep up with me,” he said.
To that end, Patterson was ready to work with Brutus – not just as an amputee, but as an athlete.
“It is a whole different mindset for working with athletes rather than just doing your typical prosthesis that someone uses for ambulation and daily functions,” Patterson said. “It is just fine tuning … You have to see what they are doing, what the challenges of the residual limb are as far as whether it is short or long, you try to capitalize upon all the strengths that they have and then you design that prosthesis around there just to optimize their natural athletic ability.”
Gift of running
While cycling remains the priority for Brutus, he also has set his sights on running. Patterson said Brutus expressed a desire to try running after seeing other athletes working out at the Prosthetic & Orthotic Associates facility. Patterson obtained a pair of running feet from Össur for Brutus to try out – but what Brutus didn’t know was that he was trying them out so Össur, in partnership with the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF), could make him a custom pair.
“He got in here and the first time we had these bands that we use to actually run beside him so he cannot fall,” Patterson said. “We did it a few times. It is almost like training wheels. And then [Brutus said], ‘OK, I am ready to take the training wheels off.’ And we took it off and he started running on his own, and he went outside and ran on his own and he was hooked.”
Patterson then told Brutus he would try to get the feet approved by his insurance, although he knew Össur and CAF would be giving Brutus a pair for free.
“He was pretty bummed when I told him, ‘We have to send these back. We just wanted to make sure you could do it,’” Patterson said. “I already knew they were [going to be] donated … So then we just made him some sockets and laminated them. He did not even know we were doing it, and then we sent them out to CAF [and Össur], and they presented them to him.”
Brutus visited Össur’s California facility on Aug. 15, where representatives from CAF and Össur surprised him with a pair of Össur’s Flex-Run Feet.
“I am excited to take them back to school and when I am not cycling, I will definitely be running,” Brutus said. “I get to do some cross training and maybe even start doing some track events too.”
CAF began supporting Brutus long before he made the cycling team. Last year CAF provided a grant for Brutus to attend the 2013 San Diego Triathlon Challenge as well as a lifetime membership to 24 Hour Fitness. After his bike was totaled in a second accident last year, Brutus was surprised with a new bike from CAF as well.
“They provide athletes and just regular people with the equipment they need to get out there. Being, and I quote, ‘disabled,’ one of the best things that you look forward to is having a better quality of life and I feel like not only CAF but Össur also – they provide a lot of people with the opportunity to just get out there and be active and better their quality of life and get in shape.”
Tools to succeed
Patterson said one attribute that truly separates Brutus from the pack is his attitude.
“I have some wonderful athletic patients … But the one thing with Moise is, you can’t help but notice his heart,” Patterson said. “He seems to not only take pride in [his abilities] and do what he does well but on the same token, he has a kind heart and he tries to help … other amputees and promote them and give them encouragement. It is just nice to see. He is just a very kindhearted individual.”
Brutus hopes his success will show other amputees that they can do more than they think.
“Every day is not going to be a good day, but just keep going,” he advised. “Instead of worrying about the things I cannot do, I think of new ways to do the things I can do. I think that is why I have so many different feet now. [I have] one for pretty much every activity, and I am pretty sure that number is going to keep growing. Do not give up. The possibilities are endless, and the technology only gets better. Pretty soon I think I am going to be kind of like the Six Million Dollar Man.”— by Amanda Alexander
Disclosures: Brutus and Patterson have no relevant financial disclosures.