A Few Minutes With… Episode 25 | College of Applied Health Sciences at Illinois

VINCE LARA: Hello. This is Vince Lara
at the College of Applied Health Sciences at
the University of Illinois. Today I spend a few minutes
with Brian Siemann, two time paralympian who’s training
again in Illinois for a spot in the 2020 games in Tokyo. Brian, good to talk to you. So you’re a graduate
of Notre Dame High from New Jersey, the school
that also produced Star Jones, famously, among others. And you started taking part in
racing when Coach McLaughlin introduced you to it. Did you think that
sports wasn’t something you’d ever be able to do to
take part in before that? BRIAN SIEMANN: Oh,
yeah, absolutely. Sports to me was kind of this
foreign concept that, you know, I didn’t really know of
any opportunities that existed nor did I really see
any kind of representation of athletes with disabilities
competing anywhere. So it’s kind of one of those
things that when you’re– when you’re growing up,
you just sort of kind of resigned yourself to the
fact if you don’t see it, then it’s kind of out
of sight, out of mind. And you just look for
other opportunities or other sort of
interests that, you know, are kind of calling to you. And so when I was asked
by coach McLaughlin if I wanted to come out
for the racing team, it was very much a shock because
sports, again, was something that I had never
considered myself doing nor did I really consider
myself excelling at it at all. So it was definitely a
memorable day, to say the least. VINCE LARA: Yeah, and
how quickly did you come to enjoy the sports part of it? I guess– was it racing
that you got into first? BRIAN SIEMANN: Yeah, yeah. So I got into racing. And so basically, the high
school coach McLaughlin had said to me, you
know, I’ve never coach an athlete with
a disability before. And I was like, oh, cool. Well, I’ve never done
any sports before. And so he was like,
we’ll just kind of figure this out together. And so basically, my high
school raised money for my first racing chair, which cost about
$5,000, which is a huge– looking back on
it now is a huge– was a huge sort of
gamble that they took and kind of a leap
of faith in me just to kind of have me
be included on this– on my high school track team. And then I just started racing. I did the same workouts that
all the able-bodied runners did. And so it was just– I was just another
member of the team, and I just used a racing
chair instead of my legs. VINCE LARA: Yeah, that’s great. Now you know, being
from the east coast, did you know about Illinois’
training facilities, and was coming here about
DRES and about the ability for you to continue to train? BRIAN SIEMANN: Absolutely. But at first, it
was not the case. So being from New Jersey and
having no exposure to sports, I had created sort of
this four year plan for myself where I was going
to graduate from high school. And even when I started
racing, I had said, like, OK. I’ll do this through high
school, like, you know. But it was never anything
that I envisioned happening much
later on and, like, continuing to do
now for, oh my God, nearly 16 years at this point. And so I definitely
did not consider that. But as I started to
train, I think around my– like, towards the end of my
sophomore and junior year, as you go to these
local competitions with other athletes with
disabilities, you start to– Illinois is a term that’s
frequently mentioned. And so you start to– you
know, again, I never– I was living in New Jersey. I was by the shore,
by New York City. The idea of coming out to
the midwest and cornfields was like the last thing
I ever wanted to do. But I was actually– I was recruited out here. I came up for a
visit I want to say my– like, the beginning
of my senior year, I came out for a track camp
that the university program runs for younger kids
with disabilities. I came out, and I did
like the whole visit. I saw alma mater. And then I went– I trained with all of the
other U of I paralympians. And as soon as I came
home, I was like, this is where I want to go. Upon just, like,
getting around campus, just seeing just the culture
around this entire university towards disability
is something that is noticeable right
away even for someone who has no exposure to it. And so oddly enough, so I
submitted my application. I did– I think it was
like the early decision thing or whatever. And so around that December
1 or whenever that is, I remember I got– I was, like, frantically
checking my email. And I was really
frustrated because it was– we’re east coast time. And so I had to wait
until 6 o’clock and not 5:00, even though it’s, you
know, the same thing. but– VINCE LARA: Right. BRIAN SIEMANN: My
didn’t view it that way. And so I was, like, frantically,
like, refreshing my email. And I actually accepted
my offer of admission before even telling my
parents that I got in. VINCE LARA: Oh wow. BRIAN SIEMANN: I remember
just telling them, like, oh yeah, I got in and I’m
going just because I knew that this was where I belonged. VINCE LARA: Now you predated
Coach Blakeney, correct? BRIAN SIEMANN: No, he
had been here for– I want to say about four
years before I started. And so he recruited me. VINCE LARA: OK. So did you know about him,
and was his reputation that wide that even in the East
Coast, people knew, oh yeah, you want to go, you
know, train with coach? BRIAN SIEMANN: Oh yeah. So with Adam, it’s really funny. So we kind of have
this running joke where once I started to
learn about the Illinois program my junior
year or so, I mean, even before I came out here,
you started to see– like, I learned about the
accolades of Adam Blakeney. It was like I wanted
to impress him. And so he would always come
to these junior national competitions and everything. And I still remember my
conversation with him. And I always ask him now. I’m like, do you remember,
like, where we met and what we talked about? And he’s like, yeah,
yeah, of course. And he has no idea. And so it’s kind of this
recurring joke between us that he remembers
me when I was a kid. And now he’s been stuck
with me since 2008. VINCE LARA: Now you’ve competed
twice in the Paralympics. Do your teammates, at this
point, come to you for advice? Because you know, there’s a
pretty nice gap between you and, let’s say, Alexa or
some of the younger members. And is that a role
that you enjoy? BRIAN SIEMANN: Yeah, so I think
we have a really welcoming sort of environment. I remember when I was
the young kid sort of what that was like to be– you know, we’re kind
of really lucky here. We’re surrounded by
phenomenal athletes. And so I remember
kind of feeling slightly intimidated
but just sort of how welcome I was made to feel
by the older teammates that I still am friends
with to this day. And so it is something that
I do take very seriously when new students come in that I try
to be that open sort of person that kind of talks
to them and kind of lets them kind of learn
from some of the mistakes I made maybe. Or just to have someone to
talk it was always kind of– is something that
I do cherish a lot. VINCE LARA: Mm-hm. Now you got your masters here. Now you’re working in
DRES and student services. So do you allow yourself to
think what’s next beyond sport and what your next
step would be? BRIAN SIEMANN: So
taking this job as an access specialist
at DRES really sort of was kind of what
I was thinking as what’s my next step after sports. And so I’m very fortunate in
the fact that working at DRES gives me the opportunity to
still train and train for 2020 and also still
work with students, which is what I love doing. And so that culture,
really, I don’t think I can do this anywhere else. And that’s kind of– this is
the perfect sort of position for me. But it really did come out
of this desire to sort of– and it’s a desire
that’s really kind of– it’s a message that’s instilled
by Adam because he wants us to look beyond
sport as well and then to look towards like having
healthy, active lifestyles through sports but also
then having something set up after the fact because
that’s something that a lot of athletes struggle
with if they don’t have some sort of plan in place. VINCE LARA: My thanks
to Brian Seaman. This has been “A
Few Minutes With.”

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