Officer Bryan Lawrence: Setting new goals
Roanoke police Officer Bryan Lawrence continues to make strides and stay upbeat as he recovers from the paralyzing injury he suffered in 2008.
By Amanda Codispoti
Bryan Lawrence has moments when he wishes he could do more.
He couldn't help his wife, Brenda, when she put up the tree and other Christmas decorations. And when the battery in their van died, he had to talk her through using the jumper cables. Same with his son, Robert, who needed help working on his brakes.
But for everything he still can't do after last year's paralyzing injury, the Roanoke police officer is much more independent and mobile than he was a year ago.
"I just thank God," he said. "Where we came from a year ago to here."
In May 2008, Lawrence was kicked in the head by one man as he was arresting another. In March, William Steele Jr. was sentenced to 15 years in prison for injuring Lawrence.
The attack left Lawrence with a broken neck and partially paralyzed.
After the attack, Lawrence couldn't walk and found it difficult to move his arms and hands. He spent months at the Shepherd Center, a rehabilitation center in Atlanta, and came home largely dependent on his motorized wheelchair.
Roanoke firefighters and police officers had renovated the Lawren-ces' home to accommodate his wheelchair, and installed a lift to take him to and from the second floor. They paid for it using donated items and money.
Brenda Lawrence worked tirelessly every day to help her husband get dressed and eat. She also had to drive him to his doctor and therapy appointments.
"I'm very blessed to have a great wife, and a great family," Bryan Lawrence said. "I want to get better for them, not just me."
From the very beginning of his ordeal, Lawrence said he would walk again. He said he would push in the clutch and change gears in his pickup truck. And he said that he would go back to work as a police officer.
In the past year, he's done all that and more.
Just in the past three weeks, he's relied solely on his crutches to get around, leaving his wheelchair parked in the garage of his North Roanoke County home.
In June, he began driving a customized van. When he's having a good day, he like to take a joyride in his Chevy Silverado truck.
"That's been freedom for him and me," Brenda Lawrence said. "He's always been a person who went on his own merry way."
And in August, Bryan Lawrence went back to work part time at the police department as a crime prevention officer, the job he held before his injury.
One of his physical therapists at Carilion's Botetourt Athletic Club, Donna Winfield, said Lawrence's outlook has a lot to do with his progress.
"It's all about the positive attitude," she said. "If you don't have a positive attitude, you're not going anywhere."
The Lawrences also credit God. Bryan Lawrence frequently tells people that God is in the healing business.
"But you can't just sit there and say 'Heal me,' " he said.
Five days a week, Lawrence wakes up at 5:30 a.m. and drives himself to physical therapy at the athletic club.
For 90 minutes -- sometimes longer -- he does various exercises to strengthen his muscles and work on his balance. He uses the weight machines to build strength in his abdominal and leg muscles. He spends 10 minutes on a cross trainer, and works on his balance. Winfield straps weights to his ankles and helps him up and down two flights of steps and around the indoor track. She uses a stopwatch to encourage him to beat his best times. Sometimes he uses the heated pool.
In the year that he's been going to physical therapy, he's gotten to know some of the regulars at the club, who have encouraged him.
"He passed me one day on the track and I asked him if he was showing off," said Lisa Crawford, who sees Lawrence frequently when she works out in the mornings.
"Everyone who watches his progress is amazed," she said.
He's motivated them, too. It's not uncommon for people to stop him and say that he's been an inspiration, Winfield said.
It has not all been easy. There have been slips and falls. Lawrence frequently suffers from muscle spasms that can last all day.
The cold weather is a problem, too; it makes his muscles stiff. Even picking up a cold spoon to eat soup shocks his body, he said.
But he doesn't dwell on these things.
"Bryan's always been the type to deal with what life deals us," Brenda Lawrence said. "His attitude helps immensely."
He frequently makes light of his situation, and his optimism has kept Brenda Lawrence from falling into depression, she said.
The couple never doubted that he would get this far.
"I believe in the Lord, and I believed he would take care of us," Brenda Lawrence said.
The support of people in the community has also helped, she said.
"Really, what helps a lot, is people coming up and letting us know they care, too," she said. "You know you're not in this by yourself."
With many major hurdles behind him, Lawrence has set new goals.
Some are small tasks, such as picking up his crutches from the floor, or improving his range of motion so he can eat a slice of pizza.
But there are larger goals, too.
Lawrence wants to take a spin (cycling) class at the athletic club.
"I tried to get on the bike other day, and it was a disaster," he said.
He also wants to swap his crutches for canes, and hopes that by the Fourth of July he'll be able to walk in the Peachtree Road 5K in Atlanta, a fundraiser for the Shepherd Center.
And he would like to start helping teach officer safety at the police department's academy, mostly to show officers how to survive a bad experience or injury.
"Sometimes you can't help," he said. "Like me, I did everything right. Sometimes things happen."