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Growing Up Fast - BGSU's Phil Bryant

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Growing Up Fast - BGSU's Phil Bryant

Photo courtesy Bowling Green Rugby.

If there’s one thing to say about Phil Bryant, it’s that he won’t back down from a challenge.

The Bowling Green hooker and sophomore has been named the MVP Back for DIAA players in the Fall of 2016, but that’s just one example of what he’s meant to the team. He is an excellent player, to be sure, but the Cardinal Moeller HS player is more than the sum of his rugby parts.

When Bryant was four years old, his mother went into the hospital for some surgery … and never came home. Diane Bryant experienced complications from that surgery, and her heart stopped. It was a devastating blow to the Bryant family, which consisted of Diane, dad Phil Senior, Phil Junior, and his three older siblings (two from Diane’s previous marriage, and one from Phil Sr.’s previous marriage).

The family rallied, and pulled together. Bryant’s dad learned how to be a dad and a mom, and supported his kids as a roofer.

Then, tragedy struck again. In 2008, when Phil Jr. was 13, his dad was working on an elaborate treehouse he was building - his future retirement home - and fell. Phil Sr. plummeted over 30 feet, landing on his head, and suffering a catastrophic spinal injury. He was, from then on, a quadriplegic. 

Through his early teens, Phil Jr.’s life was normal in that he went to school, played sports, discovered rugby, and socialized with friends. But he also had other jobs taking care of his dad.

“I got to learn everything,” he told Goff Rugby Report. “I did the housework because my father couldn’t do that anymore. I learned how to take care of the gutters and stuff like that. My dad was a roofer so he helped me learn that. I’ve changed bedsore bandages. I’ve done palliative care. I’ve changed catheters. I’ve taken care of prescription handouts when the stuff has to be logged.”

It was a case of growing up fast. 

“There was times when I couldn’t go out or hang out with my friends, but my dad took care of four kids when we were growing up and he was constantly involved in our lives. So, when he was paralyzed, I connected more emotionally with him. He will be forever my best friend. We couldn’t toss a football or a baseball, so we talked a lot, and I got to know my father more than I thought I ever could. Just because a man is paralyzed, doesn’t mean he can’t still have influence on your life.”

Not being able to do things with friends was tough, said Bryant, but his dad worked hard to give him chances to be a regular kid, and his friends were there for him, too.

“The brotherhood in high school - those guys were just so supportive. Moeller was all about becoming a man, and I realized that sometimes you have to make sacrifices.”

In 2012, Phil Bryant, Sr. came down with pneumonia - a common affliction for the severely paralyzed. He’d had it before, and been treated at the hospital and released. But this time, the sickness took hold, and he died. Phil Bryant, Jr. was only 17.

“It didn’t feel like that big a deal,” Bryant said. “We were having high hopes that he could be getting back to walking. He spent six months at a rehab center where he met some guys who had a lot of neck and spinal injuries, and he met two or three people who had almost the exact same breaks as my dad. They were getting movement back in the five- or six-year range, so we were coming close to that. Getting pneumonia kind of destroyed his immune system but we were still thinking, ‘dad’s sick and he’ll go to the hospital and he’ll come home.’ My dad went to the hospital a lot. So it was definitely hit us hard.”

Many young people would hit a downward spiral when these tragedies hit, but for young Phil Bryant, and thanks to a support system of his siblings, and other families, this was a time to shine. At one point he moved in with the family of a female friend, who took guardianship of him and gave him another blended family to be a part of. It was all so much turmoil, and yet Bryant excelled in school and on the rugby field, and continues to be a successful student and rugby player at Bowling Green.

Along with all that, Bryant works with Companions on a Journey, a grief counseling non-profit that works with schools and individuals around Ohio. They talk with groups from five to 30 people, and talk with people from age six to over 70.

“Their story may be a best friend dying in a car crash, but they still feel the feelings I went through,” said Bryant. “We talk about how grief can be an upward and downward battle. It’s a Slinky, is the way we look at it; it can bend upwards and it can bend upwards.”

It’s a journey, said Bryant. You’re never over the grief - you live with it. 

Unafraid to talk about what has hurt him in the past, Bryant is simply eloquent when talking about his parents. His story is a rare one, but one many can learn from, and one many have learned from.

But in addition, maybe it’s just a good idea to watch him play.


Phil Bryant sets up a try.