Running a marathon can be challenging for anyone, but one UA professor preparing for such a race is proving that even greater challenges can be conquered through perseverance.
In April 2010, Prof. Freddie Jennings fell 35 feet from a balcony that he was repairing and suffered a traumatic brain injury. After brain surgery necessitated by the injury, Jennings had difficulty walking without support, talking and even sitting up for an extended period of time.
“The biggest symptoms of the brain injury are (that) I have balance issues and vision issues, physically,” Jennings said, “It’s harder to organize and to mentally focus on something.”
Today, Jennings, who said he has refused to let his TBI define him, is a visiting assistant professor in the communications department. He has also become a husband, father and active runner since his accident.
Anita Sarathi, Jennings' wife, said she admires how he has faced down every challenge presented by his injury and recovery and made it to where he is today.
“He is definitely a glass-half-full kind of person, so whenever there is a challenge or an event that may not go his way he is always able to look at the positive side of things,” Sarathi said.
Since his accident and his battle with TBI, Jennings has trained for and run races including 5Ks and half-marathons. He is training to run his first marathon this month.
Regaining his athleticism after the accident and his TBI was extremely challenging, Jennings said. The frustration he faced from the healing process and accompanying reductions in his abilities inspired him to help other disabled athletes. Last year, he got involved with the Arkansas chapter of Achilles International.
Achilles Arkansas is a local nonprofit organization that branches from the international chapter Achilles International. The nonprofit provides disabled athletes with race entry fees, customized weekly workouts with a volunteer running guide and they help raise funds for adaptable sports equipment.
“This organization is people that want to be active,” Jennings said. “It’s not focused on the competition between people, like a lot of sports are, it’s really focused on encouraging each other and working towards goals together and it’s just a community of people that need each other for that encouragement.”
Jennings is currently teaching a project-based service learning class, Persuasive Campaigns, in which students work alongside Achilles Arkansas. The class is helping the organization raise money and spread awareness about its cause.
Students in the class helped organize a virtual Halloween-themed fun run that raised more than $3,000. They are also assisting Achilles Arkansas with public relations, marketing and fundraising for an athlete who needs a handcycle, a tricycle that allows wheelchair-bound bicyclists to use hand pedals instead of the standard feet pedals.
Joshua Rugger, a junior and one of Jennings’ students, said he has gained a deep respect for Jennings not only as an educator but also as a role model, he said.
“Not only have I really gained some knowledge from him, but he has also impacted my life in a way where I view it in a more positive way,” Rugger said. “He is always smiling and working hard. He has really been an inspiration in my life and I feel like I have gained a friend as well.”
In addition to his work with Achilles international, Jennings has supported TBI survivors by helping organize and participating in a charity 5K and advocating at the state level. He received the Brain Injury Association Courage Award in 2011 for his advocacy work.
Jennings said his TBI has given him a different, more positive outlook on life.
“I really focus on [the fact that] there’s a lot of bad in this world and there is a lot of good in this world,” Jennings said, “It’s a matter of focusing on the good. With a brain injury, it would be very easy to focus on what I have lost, but instead, I am choosing to focus on the good things that have come because of it.”