By Linda Scales
Gee-Gees’ men’s hockey assistant coach Brent “Sully” Sullivan has something to say, but he’s letting his feet do the talking. He’s running in the 21-km half marathon during Ottawa Race Weekend, on May 27, in support of concussion awareness and research. Sullivan wants us to know that life isn’t all doom and gloom for concussion survivors.
“I think the only stories being told about concussions are the bad ones,” says Sullivan, 28. “It’s extremely unfortunate. I think you need a good story every now and then when it comes to concussion recovery.”
Born and raised in Carp, just west of Ottawa, Sullivan played hockey from the age of four. He was good at it, eventually competing among the elite in junior-level hockey. But the price was 14 documented concussions that forced him to retire from play at 22 … and eventually drop studying, as well. Although he used note-takers for his university classes and was given extra time to complete exams and assignments, the difficulty in remembering things stopped Sullivan from finishing his degree. “At that time I wasn’t in good enough condition to maximize these services,” he says. Today, he’s happy to be coaching hockey. “I’m now going into my seventh year and third year with the Gee-Gees.”
Despite suffering from headaches, dizziness, nausea and not feeling like himself, it was his last concussion, from a car accident at 25, which caused Sullivan the most distress. “Depression really kicked me in the ass,” he says about his resulting mental health struggle, which included anxiety and panic attacks. “I think every time people read about concussions and mental health and how they go hand-in-hand it’s always a story that is tough to soak in.”
A new reality
“I knew I wasn’t going to get better unless it came from me,” says Sullivan about his decision to prepare for the half marathon. “Being a former hockey player, fitness was a big part of my life prior to all of the concussions taking over. At this point last year, I was arguably in the worst physical and mental condition I’d ever been in. I decided to try and hold myself a little bit accountable. That’s where this run — Run Sully Run — started.”
He considers himself “lucky and fortunate,” because many other concussion survivors could never take on the rigours of training for a road race.
“The biggest challenge has been just getting out and about,” says Sullivan about motivating himself for his training runs, usually done solo. “But I’ve seen the benefits. I sleep better, I’ve seen the anxiety starting to trickle down and the depression is no longer there. I’ve lost 60 pounds in about eight months. That has helped my self-esteem and confidence!”
For Sullivan, “This is the hand I’ve been dealt. I have my daily struggles, but I’ve learned how to get the best out of my days. I’ve been extremely fortunate, considering the situation I was in.”
Support Run Sully Run
Runners, walkers and backers of good causes, there’s still time to support the Run Sully Run campaign. Brent “Sully” Sullivan invites people to run or walk any of the events during Ottawa Race Weekend, May 26 to 27, and help him raise funds for the Concussion Legacy Foundation Canada, which supports concussion awareness and education.