Behind The Oar: Set impossible goals

Leanne Yenush

Set Impossible Goals: From paralysis to walking down the aisle. Bryan Kidwell (@protectyoneck) on how to move forward one step at a time.

It was August 19th, 2018 in Los Angeles, and the waves at the beach were especially choppy that afternoon. Bryan and his then-fiancée Sofia were enjoying a day of sand and surf. A professional chef on the verge of his own restaurant opening, his future was as bright as the midday sun.

“Every time I hop on the Hydrow and begin the workout, it’s excruciating on my body,” he says. Many of us experience resistance in starting our workouts from time to time, but for Bryan Kidwell the circumstances are different.

While doing flips in the water, an aggressive wave pushed Bryan’s body forward mid-somersault. His head smashed into a sandbar, and the next thing Bryan knew, he was immobile from the neck down and completely submerged. Panicked and unable to roll onto his back for air, just seconds of oxygen remained in his lungs.

“The worst day of our lives”

Sofia’s adrenaline kicked in the moment she saw Bryan not moving. She was able to reach him and turn him onto his back, effectively saving his life. Over the course of just a few seconds, the trajectory of their lives together had permanently changed.

Bryan was rushed to the hospital, where a 25-minute MRI revealed the diagnosis: A shattered C5 and fractured C6 in his cervical spine. Bryan and Sofia didn’t know what that meant at the time, but the next thing Bryan knew he was being wheeled away for immediate surgery. 

“The feeling in my limbs is like static on a TV, rather than seeing it in 4K,” Bryan says. His diagnosis was quadriplegia, which refers to either a loss of sensation or complete function in all four limbs.

Doctors delivered the bad news: There was a chance Bryan would never walk again. After ten days in ICU, he was moved to physical therapy to begin relearning all of the little movements people take for granted in their day-to-day lives.

A quest to beat the odds

The terrifying and excruciating moments in the ambulance did have one upside: By feeling pain and sensation in his extremities, Bryan knew he wasn’t completely paralysed. His dream of walking his fiancée down the aisle could still be a possibility.

Bryan set out to beat the odds. From bending a knee to uncurling his fingers on command, his intensive physical therapy led to steady progress, and Sofia documented their journey along the way.

“One of my ICU nurses suggested that I set 'impossible goals',” Bryan tells Hydrow lead athlete Dani Hansen. “On nights I couldn’t sleep, I would just talk to him about what I still wanted to accomplish in life.” The phrase ‘set impossible goals’ evolved into a rallying cry for Bryan, and week by week he began to regain control of his body.

In one particular session, therapists set a target for Bryan to walk twenty feet with a walker; he walked 200 instead. Less than 90 days after experiencing full paralysis from the neck down, he was able to walk again. 

“You always want to be better than the day before. I don’t think I’ll ever be 100% recovered, but I can keep shooting for 99%, and that mindset keeps me fighting every day,” Bryan says. “Push as much as you can each day and you never know what’s possible.”

Bryan walked at his wedding. 

A year after his accident, Sofia shared with him a surprise: She had been documenting his progress throughout the year and put it all together - including footage from them walking down the aisle - into an inspiring video montage.

Bryan says he watches this video “every week or two” at a minimum to remind himself of his progress and how far he’s come. He uses the motivation to set new goals for his body, including on Hydrow.

“On the Hydrow, where I was on the first day, to where I am now, as a cervical quadraplegic… it’s insane. I’m so proud of how far I’ve come.” Bryan likes to pair Hydrow sessions with strength work like battle ropes, which he keeps in his backyard, to rebuild tone in his muscles and reconnect to his core.

Dani can relate to some of Bryan’s experience. “It took me 21 years to do a push-up,” she tells him tearfully. “So I understand just a fraction of what you’re going through, what it takes, and how important goals are to keep yourself moving forward.” Dani was a silver medalist in the Rio Paralympics in 2016 and was born with Erb’s Palsy, a condition that led to partial paralysis of her left arm.

Walking out to thunderous applause

As the inspirational video circled online, it caught the attention of producers of The Ellen Show. 

Shortly after the one-year anniversary of his accident, Bryan and Sofia were contacted to come in, film a segment, and discuss their experience.

The segment opens with Sofia and Ellen sitting in chairs and talking about that fateful day. Ellen then calls on Bryan to come on out, and when it’s revealed that Bryan can walk, the crowd erupts into thunderous and emotional applause.

“Standing behind those walls, waiting to come out, I was absolutely about to throw up,” Bryan recalls. “Justin Timberlake had walked right by us prior to taking our places, and that’s when I got really, really nervous. But once those doors opened, all the nerves washed away.”

Their segment included a prerecorded sequence in which Bryan and Sofia connected with Aquaman star Jason Momoa, reflected on impossible goals, and revisited the beach where it all happened.

Bryan continues to set goals to break barriers and reach his next goal.

“I’m obsessed with the Hydrow, and one day I want to break a two-minute split. That sounds impossible right now… but I’ve heard those words before.”

Connect with Bryan in the Hydrow community -- his username is protectyoneck. A GoFundMe that was set up from Bryan’s accident is here.