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Adelphi Student-Athlete Overcomes Car Accident to Return to the Track
Adelphi runner Branden Warders was disappointed when he crossed the finish line in 26th out of 27 competitors at a January 5K race on Staten Island with a time of 16:33.
However, considering his journey to return to competitive running after a horrific car accident, it was remarkable that he was even able to compete.
Just a year earlier, the Sunnyside, Queens native suffered a serious neck break following a major traffic collision. The injuries he sustained left doctors questioning whether he would ever compete again.
Warders, a rising senior, is a member of both Adelphi's cross country and track and field teams. On the track as a freshman, he helped the Panthers win the New York City Gotham Cup in the distance medley relay (DMR), and he placed first at The Coach Omeltchenko Invitational in the 1500-meter race. In his first two cross country seasons, he ran in all 12 meets the team competed in.
But his strength and endurance was put to the test on Jan. 1, 2016, when he was travelling from California to Arizona with his family.
Warders' mother was behind the wheel of a Toyota Camry when a semi-truck clipped the car, causing it to roll over multiple times. Although his family members suffered only minor injuries, Warders wasn't as lucky. At a fairly tall at 6'1," Warders was pinned against the roof with each rotation. His neck was fractured in three places.
He underwent a three-hour surgery to place him in a "halo ring." Pins screwed directly into a metal ring encircling the head, and a vest, work to immobilize the spine and prevent further injury. Warders spent a week in the hospital before he was even permitted to get out of bed.
"The first time I got up from being bedridden and looked in the mirror, I was shocked to see rods protruding into my head," Warders said. "At that moment, I knew the road ahead wasn't going to be easy, but I reasoned I've never been one to quit, or run away from a challenge."
But Warders' coach, Katie Rees, knew he'd be back soon.
"Even when he was lying in the hospital bed, one of the first things he told me was 'I'll be back, and I'll be stronger,'" Rees said.
Warders said his team's support helped his rehabilitation. The track team sent him their support via cell phone, posing for a photo with signs that said, 'We miss you Branden.'
"Aside from his determination, we missed his cheerful nature…and most of all his kind words of encouragement," said Seona Maloney, also a rising senior at Adelphi and Warders' teammate.
A month passed before Warders was able to travel back to New York in a neck cast. He was unable to compete in the 2016 track and field season, but returned to school in February and was able to catch up on his coursework. He lived on campus throughout the spring semester, including during his rehabilitation.
Warders began physical therapy in April with Lisa Coors, a physical therapist at Physical Therapy Options in Garden City, N.Y. According to Coors, a full recovery for injuries similar to his could take up to a year, but he was finished in seven months.
"He was determined to recover and return to his normal activities, such as track, where he excels," Coors said. "Branden was in-touch with his body and its limits; he was able to hone in on his deficit, which included weakness and stiffness in his neck."
Not only did he complete his own recovery, but he also created a video to inspire another patient at the rehab facility with injuries similar to his.
"From our point of view we believe the video absolutely helped the other patient and their family as it is inspiring," Coors said. "The video has gone far in motivating not only the patient with a similar injury, but in motivating other patients in general. Branden has made a positive impact on individuals who do not see their injury getting better or returning to normal."
Warders was able to return to competing with the cross-country team in the fall of 2016.
"It was such a thrill to compete again with the team," Warders said.
Although he was disappointed with his initial track race, at the Great Dane Classic on Staten Island, he kept improving. In fact, he's now a better runner than ever before.
In February, Warders ran a 16:04 in the 5K at the DeSchriver Invitational in East Stroudsburg, Pa., finishing seventh out of 19 competitors for what was a personal best.
"He is just a tough athlete," Rees said. "When he can't do something, he wants to be able to do it -- he has that mental toughness. Though [Branden] hasn't told me directly, I believe that breaking the 16:00 barrier will be his next big step."
And break it he did -- not once, but twice. In April, Warders ran a 15:42.70 at the Rider Invitational, before lowering his career-best in the 5,000-meter to a 15:35.68 at the Bison Outdoor Classic.
With one year left in the Brown and Gold, Warders will no doubt continue to defy the odds -- one step at a time.
This article is courtesy of Adelphi student-athlete Madison Schimek. Schimek is a rising sophomore and communications major on the Adelphi women's golf team.
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