Stories

Kelly Bruno

Filming for WSIC TV continues and last week was all Kelly Bruno.

Kelly’s quick thumbnail story is that she was born with a birth defect that included not having a fibula or a foot-ankle on her right side. It made her lower leg useless and it was removed at six months of age. She has never known differently than not having a lower right leg. She even learned to crawl with a prothesis. She did sports more intensely than other kids and tried just about anything and everything. But running emerged as her forte. In junior high and high school she was setting records. She also played soccer, baseball, volleyball, swimming and other sports. She did well in school and is now half way through medical school at UNC Chapel Hill. Meanwhile, she was one of the participants on the TV Series Survivor and has recently been focused on triathlons and marathon running events as her chosen sports. She is a major advocate for disabled sports and supports several organizations important to those efforts. Naturally she is a wonderful role model for just getting out and trying whatever it is you want to do. Who Says I Can’t fits her perfectly — she naturally exudes a positive and confident attitude that is frankly wonderfully infectious.

We spent last Monday in West Palm Beach, FL interviewing Kelly’s mother Jane. Jane is calm and clearly a source of strength for Kelly. She let Kelly push herself really hard doing things like going to Olympic trials as a 15-year-old but jumped through hoops to protect her daughter as soon as anything went wrong. We had a great session with Jane and got to see lots of pictures of Kelly’s early years. Afterwards, we immediately jumped up to North Carolina so we would be ready for our two days with Kelly. We had my bike shipped there as well since Kelly and I would be doing some friendly competition in the form of a triathlon on Wednesday.

Tuesday was to be interview day and we started at Kelly’s house in Durham. As usual, our wonderful friendly crew ingratiated themselves with the host while they completely take over their house moving furniture, taking pictures off the walls and putting intrusive lights and reflectors all over. Kelly took it completely in stride — she is no stranger to TV. I interviewed Kelly for about an hour and we, and the audience, really get to know her and how she thinks about disability, the importance of sports and her accomplishments. The death of her beloved father in the Haiti earthquake was the most poignant moment. Kelly does not wear her emotions on her sleeve but understandably telling that story brought her to the edge. Next we shifted venues and had Kelly take us over to the Medical School campus where we wanted to get her in the environs of her life as a student. Just two days previously she had taken the intimidating 8-hour medical student boards that is the gate between medical student as a class-taker and medical student who is getting practical exposure to real medicine doing rotations and apprenticeships. That was it for interviewing Kelly but we did one more thing with her that day: we took her and her boyfriend of 8 years, Alex, out to dinner to get to know her even a little bit better.

Wednesday was triathlon day. Kelly arranged for a mini-tri with a half dozen of her friends. Some were tri friends and some were medical student friends. She tried to get us to use a NC Recs park with a lake and trails but they said no way. So we and she scrambled at the last minute to find pools and other venues. Kelly pulled off a miracle and we were able to use the UNC faculty pool first thing in the morning and then we’d move to a city park for the bike and run portions. It’s not ideal to do the swim in a pool but it works. And because of the 4-foot snake swimming around in the pool just as we got to it we got a pretty amazing set of pictures. We have 2 underwater cameras and they did a fantastic job both with the snake and with us swimming. The plan was to swim 20 lengths (500 yards / 0.3 miles) of the pool as an all out race between six of us and the crew would be filming from above and below as this went on. She gave me crap about using a flipper before the event.I told her not only did it not provide propulsion but that no one in 35 years of competing had ever challenged me on it. If anyone can give me crap about it though, it would be her. Naturally, since this felt like competition I wanted to compete so I went all out. I was pulling away from Kelly after 4 lengths but on the other side of me Kelly’s friend was turning out to be a ringer and fully lapped me after just 8 lengths. In the end, I had a full minute on Kelly after the swim. All I was thinking was that I needed as much time on her as possible before the run as you will see.

We moved venues for the biking to a city park that was perfect for the next two events. The bike route Kelly mapped out was a 5-mile rectangle on the roads around the park. Cameras would be on the ground at the start as well as mounted on Kelly’s handlebars and shot from a van that would follow us. We all started as a group and stayed together for the first mile. At first I thought Kelly was going to pull away but I stayed on her tail and then I saw a chance to break away and somehow managed to keep that momentum up and by the end I beat her on the bike event by a minute so now I had two full minutes on her before the run. She and I changed our legs and got ready for the run. This one I dreaded. I had only owned a running leg for 4 weeks and had had 4 coaching sessions in that time. Not having run for 38 years meant the whole motion of running was completely foreign. Bottom line: I was slower than you-know-what. The route we mapped out was once around this tiny little loop inside the city park maybe 400 yards total like the distance around a high school track. Cameras were arrayed around the area and frankly, if one of the camera guys had wanted to film me they could have run backwards holding a camera right in front of me and not broken a sweat. Kelly beat me on the 400 yard run by 4 min and hardly pushed herself. So overall she won the event by a margin of 2 minutes. BUT WE MADE THE POINT.

Who Says Kelly Bruno Can’t Tri (part I)

Who Says Kelly Bruno Can’t Tri (part II)

 

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