There are few things that make a potential Paralympian mad. One of them is to tell them “No.” Garrison Redd, 32, a para-powerlifter, hates the word, especially telling him what he can and cannot do. Either way, if you tell him that there is something he cannot do, he will look at you with a grin on his face and he will do it just to prove he can.
Some people might look at him and think there is no way he can max out a bench press at nearly 300lbs because most people cannot, but he absolutely can and will do it. That is why he is a hopeful for a Paralympic Gold in the Tokyo 2020 Games. After all, Redd is one of the strongest people in the weightroom both physically and mentally.
To give you an example of the mental toughness of Redd, he is big on numbers: calculations, algebra, equations, solving puzzles, all of it. That means more than just counting the kilograms and pounds he lifts. He was a former IRS Agent and is literally a numbers enthusiast, even going as far back as grade school.
“Sometimes during the day,” he admits, “You can hear me just solving math equations as a hobby. I’ll go on a computer and look up different math equations in algebra, or geometry.”
It was in high school where he fell in love with geometry and algebra, but in life, there are too many unpredictable variables, and one such variable caused a tragic event for the young Brooklynite.
At age 17, Garrison Redd thought that he was going to be a running back for a college team or pro team after pounding the ground for James Madison High School in the East New York section of Brooklyn. For three years, he played football and received various awards and accolades for his work ethic on and off the field, to recognize his accomplishments.
In the time leading up to his senior season, Redd, recalls the moment that changed his life forever: a mugging which ended in a complete disaster.
“I was outside [the high school] on a summer night, when I was shot in my back. The bullet burned the nerves surrounding the T12 section of my spine, which left me unable to walk,” Redd recalls.
Sitting in a hospital and being told that he would never walk again would usually be one of the low points in someone’s life. However, forever the optimist, Garrison Redd flipped this very notion of feeling sorry for himself on its rear end and used this experience to grow.
“I wasn’t discouraged, because it made me into a different man. It made me think about the bigger picture. It made me think that maybe I was put here to inspire everyone from the youth to the elderly, which I am now on a journey to achieve,” Redd says.
There are several ways that Redd has gone on to inspire people to grow emotionally and physically. This includes being a multi-time TED Talk speaker and also starting his own foundation, which is appropriately named, “The Garrison Redd Foundation”, founded in late 2018.
“I started hosting adaptive events, and I met with this lady who had a workspace, and she [said] ‘I love what you’re doing, I’m gonna provide you with the space so that way you can help other individuals out there that are in the same predicament that you [are] in,’” Redd recalls, “Mind you when I got injured, that was pre-social media. You really didn’t see anyone that had the same injury as you. With the non-profit, [we] host adaptive climbing events, adaptive sporting events, workshops on how to overcome adversity, and how to get into the workplace.”
The reason that he does this is because he knows, “One thing people fail to realize is that within the disabled community, the unemployment rate is tremendously high. And it’s really difficult for an individual to care for themselves and their needs.”
This is what keeps him going. He is not just winning a potential medal for the people of the United States or himself. He is doing all this hard work to raise awareness of people of a certain need.
“For me, as a person, it will be a tremendous accomplishment. But most of all, it will give me an opportunity to raise awareness to individuals living with disabilities. That’s one of the reasons why I like Muhammad Ali, because he stood for a cause, like civil rights, as well as being a great athlete. And my goal is to now bring awareness to a demographic of people who feel as if they are incapable.”
Garrison Redd will be representing Team USA in Para-Weightlifting at the Tokyo Paralympic Games in the -56kg weight class.
Shannon Galea was a contributor to this article.