10 years after NASCAR bridge collapse, injured man changing lives

10 years after NASCAR bridge collapse, injured man changing lives

by MICHELLE BOUDIN / NewsChannel 36
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Posted on July 30, 2010 at 10:00 PM

Updated Friday, Jul 30 at 3:10 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It was one of the biggest disasters in NASCAR history. More than 100 race fans were hurt at then-Lowe's Motor Speedway when the pedestrian bridge they were crossing collapsed.

Now, a decade later, the man hurt the worst has reached a major milestone and is helping dozens of others in the process.
Dick Brenner's legs were crushed 10 years ago. Recently, he took his first steps since the accident.

"I remember hearing two large ping noises. As it turns out, that was the cable support, the bridge parting," he said.

Brenner had gone to a race at what was Lowe's Motor Speedway in 2000. He was among the first on the new pedestrian walkway.

"I don't remember hitting. I do remember falling 24 feet and that elevator feeling in your stomach. When I woke up I was kind of covered up with people," Brenner said.

At total of 107 people were hurt -- Brenner was the worst among them. 

"My back was broken. My pelvis was broken and nerves cut," Brenner said.

He remembers asking his wife just how bad it was right before going in for what would be the first of a dozen surgeries.

"Then I said, 'Will I ever walk again? She said, 'Of course.' We didn't know it was with a prosthesis," Brenner said.

In his past life Brenner called the shots. He was a big shot -- the president of human resources at Texaco. He managed 450 people and a $29 million budget. He and his wife had just retired to their dream home in Davidson when the walkway collapsed.

"I didn't figure coming down here to retire I'd wind up losing a leg and being unable to walk, but it happens," Brenner said.

He learned he now had to rely on others.

"You learn humility, patience," he said.

He says his newly adopted church -- Davidson United Methodist -- and its members rallied around him.

"There were times I felt picked right up off my bed from the prayers that were being said about my recovery. It was astonishing," Brenner said.

So once he recovered, he says he had no choice but to come out of retirement. He now runs a class, open to the public, to teach people how to land a job. He does it free of charge.

In the 10 years since his accident, since he started the class, 400 people have found work.

We told Brenner, others may have given up.

"No, I'm not that kind of a quitter," he said.

There's something else he hasn't given up.

"I have this dream of dancing with my wife again," he told us. "That is something I hold dear, to be able to hold her in my arms and dance."

But he knows, like the people he's helping back to work, it is literally one step at a time.