The band Survivor may have performed the 80s hit, “Eye of the Tiger,” but as the uplifting song played in the gymnasium of Sacred Heart Parish School on Friday morning, there was only one survivor that guests eagerly awaited.
Bryan Stow spent nine months in a coma after being assaulted in Los Angeles by two men after a Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants game in March 2011. The assault required Stow to undergo extensive speech therapy, physical therapy and occupational therapy.
He went the distance, but now he’s literally back on his feet.
As Stow proudly walked on his crutches into Sacred Heart’s gym, he was met with a standing ovation from Sacred Heart’s staff, students, parents and the Hollister Fire Department.
“It was very emotional just to see how much he’s gone through,” said parent Margarita Manzo. “And now he’s able to walk.”
With assistance from his speech language pathologist, Brandy Dickinson, Stow spoke to 77 junior high students about the effects of bullying. He held a separate assembly for the transitional kindergarten through fourth grades.
The anti-bullying assemblies were presented by the Bryan Stow Foundation, which visits schools and community organizations.
“My foundation was created to stop bullies, to help people lead kinder lives, put an end to fan violence,” he told the crowd. “You should be able to cheer for your team, even out in the field. No one needs to get hurt.”
He presented a slideshow that began with a glimpse of his life prior to his tragic 2011 assault; pictures of him from the 1990s, photos of him with his children and even a Hollister skydive he took with his sisters.
“Fortunately, we survived,” he said of the skydive, jokingly.
Then to a giggling crowd he responded, “Thanks for laughing.”
The mood soon became somber after Stow showed a picture of himself at the hospital the night of March 31, 2011.
“By far the worst night of my life,” he recalled.
“I was down in Los Angeles and went to a Giants/Dodgers game to hopefully watch the Giants beat the Dodgers. The Giants lost and I almost lost my life in the parking lot.”
Stow made sure the students understood the severity of bullying.
“I was jumped by two adult bullies and they gave me a severe brain injury,” he said.
He then listed the medications that he takes on a daily basis, saying that he has gone from taking 24 and a half pills down to taking 13 and a half.
He said his daily medication is necessary to keep his body functioning and to minimize his chances of having a seizure. “I had one last year that was not good,” he said.
Stow also showed the progression of his recovery.
He showed a series of pictures, first of him being in a wheelchair, only able to exercise his limbs, to eventually a picture of himself on crutches.
“I had just finished my portion of a Mile Walk, Traumatic Brain Injury Patients of San Jose. I didn’t walk the whole mile, but that’s me finishing it on my own.”
He then showed a picture of himself walking on a cane.
“I’m still unsteady but I’m getting better,” he said, and showed off his new skills by walking on the cane with assistance from his father, Dave Stow.
Stow spoke of his life now, post-injury, and how he’s able to live a full life.
For instance, the San Francisco Giants have asked him three years in a row to throw out the first pitch on their opening day.
“And I did it,” he proudly said.
Stow also swims every day, bicycles, and rows. And he recently completed a quarter-mile swim challenge at Cabrillo College swimming pool.
One wouldn’t know of his traumatic brain injury by listening to him speak, either. His comedic quips often lightened the mood in the emotionally heavy gym.
For instance, after showing the room a picture of him with a feeding tube and saying how he gained even more weight back after learning to eat again, some in the crowd began to laugh.
He turned at those laughing and quipped, “That wasn’t funny.”
But he never steered away from his love for the team.
When looking at several pictures of his recovery, he’d ask the students what shirt he was wearing.
“Yes, World Series Champions, Giants!”
The effect that Stow’s presentation had on his guests was evident. While some older students were wiping away tears, parents and teachers wiped away tears, too.
“It hits home,” said teacher, Christopher Salazar, of Stow’s presentation.
“I got emotional at times and had to try to compose myself, take a couple of deep breaths,” he said.
“It filled our hearts with compassion and love, and we’re very, very blessed to have had this experience at our school,” said parent, Adriana Ferry.
Toward the end of the assembly, Stow asked the students to stand and recite his anti-bullying pledge: “Don’t be a bystander, Be an upstander, Speak up, Reach out, and Lead by Example.”
The students did this, proudly.