By MARGARET DWIGGINS
There are not many people who can look back on a deadly car accident and say that good things happened because of it, but Brock Mealer is one of them.
Mealer, 29, of Wauseon, was with his father, Dave; mother, Shelly; brother Elliott and Elliott’s girlfriend, Hollis Richer, on Christmas Eve 2007, driving home from a family celebration in Stryker. Another car ran a stop sign and plowed into the Mealers’ car. Dave Mealer and Richer died at the scene. Shelly, Elliott and Brock survived, but Brock was paralyzed from the waist down and doctors told him he’d probably never walk again.
Not only is Mealer walking again, he is sharing his story, and his faith, with as many people as he can. On Sunday, he will be the featured speaker at the Church in the Park service at 10:30 a.m. in Gormley Park, Forest, as part of Forest’s annual Tree Town Festival.
Those attending the service will hear Mealer’s account of the struggle to regain use of his legs and with his Christian faith, which he says was ultimately strengthened.
“It has certainly been a battle back and forth with the faith part of my life,” Mealer said. “With everything that’s gone wrong, it creates a lot of doubts about how God feels about you.
“I just want to share with people how I was able to get through that and the things in hindsight that were signs God gave me to get through a very low point, the signs now that God has shown me the incredible opportunities I never could have created for myself before the accident,” he said.
Just a few weeks before the accident, Elliott Mealer had committed to play football for the University of Michigan in the coming season. In 2009, Brock, who had by then exhausted his insurance coverage for rehabilitation and was using a wheelchair, and his mother were visiting his brother at the UM campus when they had a chance meeting with then-coach Rich Rodriguez. Rodriguez invited Mealer to watch a football practice.
There, Mealer was introduced to Mike Barwis, Michigan’s strength and conditioning coach, who, knowing of Mealer’s desire to walk again, asked Mealer if he’d like to come train with the team. Mealer was definitely interested, although his brother warned him that Barwis would not cut him any breaks.
Soon, Mealer, then a graduate student at Ohio State University, was driving to Ann Arbor from Columbus five and six times a week for training sessions with Barwis. His brother had been right, Barwis was merciless with Mealer, insisting that he walk again.
In the spring of 2010, during a football practice, Mealer took his first steps as the UM team looked on. A few months later, at UM’s opening game, Mealer led the team through the tunnel and out onto the field, to thunderous applause from the crowd of over 100,000.
Mealer said his faith helped him work through the grief at losing his father, and gave the determination to keep up with Barwis’ grueling workouts. When asked, he is happy to share his story to church groups.
“For me, it was a hard choice to do all the things I’ve had to go through, but it was an incredible opportunity that people don’t get, to work out with these athletes and do the impossible. I never realized the impact it would have on other people. I always want to bring the glory of God to that and how he healed me. This is a testament to how God can still direct our paths. I hope that’s inspiring to some people and something they can take to heart.”
Mealer now usually walks with a cane, although he relies on a walker if he’s going longer distances. He continues to train with Barwis, who has now opened his own training facility in Ann Arbor, twice a week. At the gym, he walks with no assistance, he said.
Losing his father, he said, weighs on him more than any of the physical trials he’s had.
“I realized I’ve gotten stronger and there’s a lot more times than not I’m smiling at the memories and grateful for all the great things I had with my father. There’s a lot of people that don’t have that. As fast as life goes by it seems like it won’t be long before I see him again,” he said.
“It’s a selfish thing but I’d give anything to have a few more minutes with him. One message I try to get across to middle schoolers and high schoolers (is to tell them) to let people know how you feel about them — your parents, your friends — let them know.”
Among the highlights of the last four years has been his marriage, and being able to stand on his own long enough to exchange rings with his wife, Haley, and walk down the aisle with her after the ceremony.
Even meeting Haley would not have been possible without the accident, he said, as they met at a fundraiser for a young boy where Mealer had been asked to speak.
Elliott, who is five years younger than Mealer, graduated from Michigan and played with the New Orleans Saints last year but was cut from the offensive line. Mealer said he hopes to be able to continue with a career in football. Another brother, Blake, attended Liberty-Benton High School his senior year, where he played basketball, Mealer said.
Mealer, who has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Ohio State, now works at a concrete company owned by his grandfather in Bryan. He is able to drive himself to work, using special hand controls as he did not recover full feeling in his feet.
Mealer said Barwis is the subject of a new reality television show, “American Muscle,” which will premiere at 9 p.m. tonight on the Discovery Channel. Mealer said he believes he will be featured in the show periodically throughout the season.
NOTE: A full schedule of this weekend’s Tree Town Festival will be published in Thursday’s edition of The Courier. Dwiggins: 419-427-8477 Send an E-mail to Margaret Dwiggins
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