Stephen Heidenreich is a Watertown native as well as a former 1976 Olympic track and field team hopeful. During training for the event, Heidenreich was victim to a hit and run incident that left him with the mental age of a 2 year old in a 22-year-old’s body.
Now, Heidenreich travels across the country to share how his traumatic brain injury propelled him to success.
He is set to speak at a Dare to Dream conference in Rapid City next month.
Heidenreich says his story of survival started with a goal of running a mile in less than four minutes on the U.S.A Track and Field team. But he says his dream wasn’t shattered when his traumatic brain injury forced him to grow up again at 22. Instead, he focused on something different.
“I took all the traits and characteristics that I used to be a great international athlete and I applied them to the academic arena, high goals, hard work, persistence, dedication, focus,” says Heidenreich.
He went on to earn three Master's degrees and become a special education teacher and coach.
But Heidenreich says he never would have been able to start over again if it weren't for his parents, teachers, coaches and other community members that offered support.
Years later Heidenreich promotes that same message of unity when speaking to other traumatic brain injury survivors.
He says by approaching every situation with the mindset of an Olympic champion, success is sure to follow.
“It’s a very powerful, miraculous, inspirational message that can inspire anyone to be successful in any arena that they choose,”says Heidenreich.
Heidenreich adds that just in South Dakota alone there are many support groups and clinics for those suffering from traumatic brain injury survivors.
He says while he is aware of his injury there are other victims of traumatic brain injuries who may not realize it.
“And unfortunately there are many people who have, who really don’t realize that they have suffered, for example a lot of times in schools young people suffer concussions,” Heidenreich says.
Heidenreich says that severe concussions were often misdiagnosed in the past but now there are strict requirements to follow when such an injury occurs.
Stephen Heidenreich's story won’t be the only one featured at the Dare to Dream Conference. Other speakers are set to talk about human behavior and sexuality. The conference is scheduled for October 15. Registration is $25 and is open to anyone part of the special needs community.