Alabama’s Brian Hicks lost a leg, and kept on running
by Brooke Nicholls Nelson
Special to The Star
Apr 15, 2012 | 2590 views |  0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, some with superpowers like X-ray vision or the ability to fly. And some with only one leg, like Brian Hicks, 41, of Pike Road, Ala. He’s a Paralympian and an Army veteran, who runs almost as fast as a speeding bullet aided by a prosthesis called an “Ossur FlexRun.”

Hicks’ left leg is amputated below the knee. He has waged a constant personal battle for 14 years to overcome Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), a painful nerve condition, after a rifle accident in 1998 left his leg with the syndrome, resulting in its amputation in 2008.

On Thursday, the Anniston Runners Club will host a dinner meeting where Hicks will speak about his struggle to regain control of his life after the accident and his successful bid to gain a spot on Team USA.

“In 1998, I was attempting to remove a rifle from its case when it went off, blowing through the case and nearly blowing my leg off,” said Hicks. “I underwent several surgeries to repair the extensive damage.”

Hicks likens the RSD pain to his “personal Groundhog Day movie.” A person with RSD experiences unrelenting pain, making it feel like the incident keeps happening over and over again. He described the pain as “someone pouring gas on my legs and lighting a match.”

For four years, doctors treated Hicks for RSD, and when they finally thought it was under control, he was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the Army and deployed to Iraq. In 2003, his convoy was involved in a wreck that caused a severe impact to his lower back and head, setting off the RSD so violently that no pain medication could touch it.

Relief finally came in the form of a spinal column stimulator, implanted in 2004, which helped him deal with the pain. However, the RSD had caused so much damage doctors opted to amputate his leg in 2008.

“The nerve problem is still alive and well,” said Hicks. “But with the stimulator managing my pain, I am once again able to carry on with my life.”

The Veteran’s Administration purchased a state-of-the-art prosthesis, which looks a little like a boomerang attached to his knee. He recently received a new Nike sole, too. “It is a huge improvement,” Hicks said about the new sole. “It just hit the market within the last year.”

Hicks hopes the update of his equipment and his extensive training program, which includes competing in half marathons and triathlons, will help him continue competing on Team USA. He has been on the team for three years and will compete in the International Triathlon Union (off-road triathlon with mountain bike and trail run) on May 19 in Pelham.

His proudest athletic achievement has been representing his country in the World Championships of Triathlons for paralympians. A paralympian is an athlete who has participated in the Paralympic Games, a major international multi-sport event in which participants are physically disabled. The games began after World War II in Britain and are held parallel with the Olympic Games every four years.

Hicks trains at the YMCA in Montgomery, the Lakeshore Foundation Paralympic training site in Birmingham and around his neighborhood in Pike Road. His strategy is to slowly extend the distances until being able to compete in the longer ones, like the Gulf Coast Triathlon in Panama City, Fla., on May 12, where he will swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles and run 13.1 miles.

Hicks was chosen as a “Global Hero” by Medtronic, a medical implant company that selects heroes each year from all over the world to compete in the Medtronic Marathon in Minneapolis. Medtronic’s program celebrates individuals who have overcome the condition that caused the need for the implant, ranging from heart disease to diabetes to pain management.

Hicks credits his success to faith, friends and family. He and wife, Teresa, have two sons, Joel, 16, and Justin, 15. Hicks is a resident engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers.

If he could, Hicks would not change what has happened in his life. He does not regret the loss of his leg.

“I have learned so much about my faith and family since the loss, that I could not be the person I am today if I still had it,” he said. “I think it also allows me to witness to others because there is not a race where someone does not ask me how I do it. That opens the door for Christ to walk through.”

Anniston Runners Club presents Brian Hicks

6:30 p.m. Thursday

Where: McClellan Park Medical Mall Café, Anniston

For more info: Contact Hayley Long, Anniston Runners Club vice president, 256-506-0046,
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Alabama’s Brian Hicks lost a leg, and kept on running by Brooke Nicholls Nelson
Special to The Star

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