Tokyo Paralympics: Mikey Brannigan wasn't allowed to compete in college before Rio gold win
Gold medalist Michael Brannigan, popularly known as Mikey Brannigan, is all set to break his own record as he participates in Tokyo Paralympics this year. The 24-year-old Northport native, who was diagnosed with autism as a young child, created history five years ago by becoming the first American runner with autism to win the gold at the 2016 Rio Games.
However, achieving such honor at 19 was not easy for Mikey as he had to struggle a lot to prove his worth. According to reports, he started running when he was just eight years old after his parents admitted him to the Rolling Thunder Special Needs Program in Shirley, New York.
“The running changed everything. He became a different kid. Whether its endorphins or just getting out all the excess hyperactive energy that he has, it changed him completely,” Edie Brannigan, Mikey’s mother, said.
The Rolling Thunder helped him in competing in road races as a young boy. “First Mikey was coming in like 200th. Then Mikey was coming in like 100th. Then Mikey was coming in 50th. And then Mikey was coming in 20th. Well the next thing you know, Mikey’s winning every road race he goes into, practically,” his proud mother said, before adding: “I mean he was 12 years old, and we went with Rolling Thunder as a team to Washington, D.C. for the Marine Corps 10k. There’s something like 6,000 people in the race; Mikey comes in 22nd. He’s 12.”
Though Mikey continued to set records and also became the school’s top runner and one of the elite New York high schoolers, it was during college he faced issues. His success on the track during high school attracted over 200 college teams, including Georgetown University. The university even began with the recruitment process to take Mikey in, but after knowing about his condition, they backed out.
Georgetown cross country head coach Brandon Bonsey explained, “I believed in his talent and I watched him run a bunch, so I, from a pure running standpoint, felt that he was one of the best recruits in the country. But we also have to, and each school also has to, tailor their recruiting to what’s going to fit on their campus and I got the sense that it wouldn’t be the best fit for us or for him.”
Reportedly, Mikey was also not allowed to compete at the collegiate level as he failed to meet National Collegiate Athletic Association’s academic standards despite being accepted into individual colleges. “With the proper academic support, Mikey could do it. He’s driven. But he couldn’t get past the NCAA educational requirements, and that’s heartbreaking. Every college in the country wanted him,” Edie claimed.
But NCAA rules and his autism did not stop him from becoming what he is today. He started his training under coach Sonja Robinson and also ran for the New York Athletic Club. Eventually, Mikey represented his nation in the T20 1500 meter run at the IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha, Qatar, in 2015. He also won gold at the Rio Paralympics a year later, leading the 1,500 meters from start to finish and crossing the line in 3:51.73.
As per reports, for Mikey -- who was named Team USA's Male Paralympic Athlete of the Year for 2017 -- the Paralympics are not the end. His coach Robinson said, “He firmly believes that he belongs running with IAAF [International Association of Athletics Federations] level athletes. He wants to be one of the best. He doesn’t want to be one of the best 20-year-olds, he wants to make that Olympic team.”
His mother also believes that the sky is not the limit for her son as she stated, “If I listened every time someone told me Mikey can’t do something, he’d be up in his room right now staring at the wall. I put no limits on Mikey because of what he’s already done. I know if Mikey puts his mind to it, he’ll get there.”