Brian Dux stood up from his chair at halftime Sunday afternoon, braced himself with his four-legged cane, looked around the Koessler Athletic Center and slowly made his way across the floor. Seven steps separated him from his destination, seven steps that have come to define his journey for six-plus years.
Dux showed a sellout crowd at the Canisius-Iona game how life really is about putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward. It’s a message he has come to treasure even if it’s a task he has yet to master since a 2007 car accident left him with the effects of a traumatic brain injury. His long, arduous recovery continues.
It was a joy watching him run the point for Canisius, so it was difficult seeing him labor across the same floor he dominated for so many years. Fans who stood with Dux during his playing days stood with him again Sunday as was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame. Many had tears streaming down their cheeks.
You couldn’t help but feel for him.
Looks can be deceiving, as they say.
Dux wasn’t struggling at all Sunday, not when you consider how much he had overcome since the accident. He was around family, friends and former teammates who watched him evolve into a terrific player. He was around the game. Ten years after his college career ended, Canisius gave him its highest honor.
“I really get upset when people feel sorry for me,” Dux said. “Don’t feel sorry for me. I’m as happy as I’ve ever been, for sure. I already lived out my dreams and accomplished my goals. I just had an accident. I’ll be back on a different road now.”
To review, the former Canisius College star was playing in the British Basketball League when his car veered off the road outside of London and slammed into a tree. The head injury left him in a coma for weeks. At the time, doctors didn’t know if he would survive. If he lived, they worried about his quality of life.
Six-plus years later, the left side of his body remains weak and requires rehabilitation five times a week. His speech remains challenged, although the injury has done nothing to alter his ability to communicate. Anyone who knows his story can see what he lost. Anyone who spends 10 minutes with him can hear what he gained.
A second chance.
“I had a bad break with my accident, but life goes on, you know?” he said. “I look at the bright side of things. I can’t play anymore, but when I look back, I accomplished a lot in my career. For me, personally, I know that I played at a pretty high level. It was a dream of mine since I was a little kid. It was a dream come true.”
Dux had difficult moments, as you would expect. He anguished over his misfortune while trying to make sense of it all after the crash. He was a star in England, a cult hero with his long hair and ability to run the offense. He was making a living and hoped to play for England in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, not far from the accident scene.
When a man’s life gets turned upside down, when he suffers a debilitating injury that ends his career, there’s going to be a transition period. The healing process can be longer mentally than physically.
Dux needed to make peace with his injury and embrace his uncertain future. The accident seemed unfair, but it didn’t matter.
At 32, he has come to appreciate his brush with death while putting everything else in proper perspective. At one point, he had a difficult time focusing long enough to log onto the Internet, let alone take an online graduate course. Last year, he earned his master’s degree from Canisius in sports management.
“It’s almost as if a burden has been lifted off,” Dux said. “I used to put so much pressure on myself to be better and improve every day. I could handle it, but I put a lot of pressure on myself. Nowadays, people are jumping for joy when I walk with no cane. I’m like, ‘That’s easy.’ ”
For now, his mind works faster than his body. He’s keeping his brain sharp and waiting for his body to catch up. The same competitiveness that made him such a great player has worked to his advantage in recovery. Doctors and therapists have marveled over his progress and refusal to lose.
Rather than waste time on his limitations, Dux is focusing on what he can bring. His next goal is becoming a physical education teacher, which will give him an avenue into coaching. It makes perfect sense. He’s been a basketball savant since his childhood, which is how he became a star in high school and landed at Canisius.
Dux was a coach on the floor who learned how to break down defenses and maximize his teammates. He wants to share that knowledge with younger players and help them develop their competitiveness. He was destined to coach long before the head injury. There’s no reason to change the master plan now.
He’s pushing forward, one step at a time, not sure what the future holds and no longer holding onto the past.
“I consider myself the luckiest guy in the world,” Dux said. “I’ve basically been dead. You don’t take things for granted when you’ve been so close. You really enjoy every day and cherish every moment.”