Milwaukee baseball star still grinding ‘in a different way’ after ski accident left him paralyzed

Adam Heinzen

MILWAUKEE -- For four years, Brandon Mantz played baseball at Wisconsin Lutheran College. He was a conference scholar-athlete all four years and batted .341 as a senior.

"Really good student. Really good athlete. Always had a positive spin on things, no matter if it was after a bad day -- always had a smile on his face, and that's the reason why so many people, including me, really enjoyed being around Brandon. Very competitive. He held his own in the diamond the last two years of his career here at WLC. He played in every game, which was 75 games, and he really came out of his shell his senior year. When you are playing 40 games a season at the Division III level in a month and a half span, and just to show he didn't really miss any games. He was a grinder," said Adam Heinzen, director of athletic communications at Wisconsin Lutheran College.

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"A coach of mine one time said, 'You're either an energy giver or an energy taker,' and kind of, that's something that has stuck with me, and I always want to be an energy giver," said Mantz.

Brandon Mantz

Full of energy, Mantz had moved to Colorado and was skiing in December when he crashed.

"If I was there for any longer, I probably would have bled out. I had some internal bleeding, and in the helicopter they pumped out three liters of blood from my chest and they say typically people don't make it after two liters," said Mantz.

Mantz survived, but was paralyzed from the waist down, with doctors giving him a zero percent chance of walking again.

"You couldn't believe it. It happened to a guy, 25 years old, with such a promising future ahead of him. That, it's like, you pause and reflect. It's like, holy cow. Couldn't believe it," said Heinzen.

Family and friends stepped in with support -- emotional, financial and otherwise. Social media exploded with tributes. Mantz received top-notch medical care, but still had to adjust to going from college athlete to paraplegic.

"All the little things too, just being from that athletic, coaching background, it's almost the same perspective. The nurses, they're like my coaches now, and all the therapists, and so I think just that coachability, and then, like you said, from the physical perspective, being able to have kind of a strong base. Like, if I wasn't taking care of myself beforehand, I wouldn't have made it through," said Mantz.

Mantz wasn't just a baseball player at Wisconsin Lutheran College. He also worked in the athletic communications office and interacted with almost everyone on the small, tight-knit campus where he became a man.

Brandon Mantz

Brandon Mantz

"We really push servant leadership. So their four years here, meaning going off in the real world and making an impact, and Brandon is going to do that with what happened to him," said Heinzen.

"I've been thinking about that a lot, and it's something that I've really been leaning on, and God kind of, I think, gives his toughest battles to some of his strongest soldiers. And so really in some times that I've been down, I really rely on kind of my faith and God's words to dive in, and there's been a lot of times when there's that question, you know, why is this happening to me? But I think He's got a plan for me to impact this community, and you know, I was kind of in kind of a privileged status before, kind of, white male, middle class, and you know, sometimes that gets lost in kind of the shuffle, and now being disabled, it's a different voice that I'm coming from now, and so that, too, is -- He meant for me, I think, to take on this role," said Mantz.

Mantz has attacked his rehab with a competitive spirit. That attitude, his care and his friends and family have helped make the future clearer. So what's next?

"Hopefully a lot of things. I guess that's kind of a loaded question that brings, for me, a lot of things, you know, come into my head. What can I get involved in? I know there's different foundations. I'd like to do some 5Ks, some 10Ks, whether that's in a race or hand-cycle bike. There's a lot of different opportunities that, initially I thought 'my legs are gone. What can I do? What can I do?' Everything revolved around being athletic and being able to hike and do different stuff, but I can still do all those things, just in a little bit different way," said Mantz.

Brandon Mantz

Brandon Mantz

Mantz's life has taken a different path, but he said he's still that grinder and that energy giver.

Brandon Mantz

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