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The Will To Live: Inspirational firefighter takes on dancing challenge

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Brandon Anderson and his dance partner, Ainsleigh Rund, practice at Style Dance Academy Sunday afternoonin Shelbyville. Anderson, who lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident in 2016, returned to active duty as fireman less than a year later. And now he is conquering dancing as a cast member for the 2018 Shelby County Dancing with the Stars event Saturday night at Indiana Grand Racing & Casino.
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Brandon Anderson and Ainsleigh Rund rehearse their dance routine Sunday that will be part of the 2018 Shelby County Dancing with the Stars competition.

By JEFF BROWN - jbrown@shelbynews.com

Brandon Anderson believes he can do anything until proven wrong.

The Shelby County resident survived a motorcycle accident that cost him his right leg. And he pushed so hard through rehabilitation that he was back on full duty as a fireman in Fishers, Indiana, less than one year later. 

But when a dancing challenge was thrust upon him ... he balked. 

“I said, ‘Absolutely not!’” laughed Anderson while standing inside a Shelbyville dance studio Sunday afternoon. “For a guy that has zero dance ability and can hit the off beat ... it was, ‘Absolutely not!”

Anderson is not one to back down from a challenge, though. And he is unwavering in his determination to prove he can do anything he sets his mind to accomplish.

“They just stayed on me a little bit and said you really need to do this,” explained Anderson, who lives in Shelby County with his wife, Nesha, and their two sons, Blake and Steven – who attend Triton Central High School. “As I thought more about it and what I’ve been through the last two years, how this community and the Triton (Central) community and all the kids have not only been there for me but my entire family, for me to be where I am today, this is an opportunity to give back a little bit and do something for them and help out the best way I can. And if that’s to get up there and try something I’ve never done before, and that has been a lot in the last couple years of doing things I never thought I would find myself doing, this is an opportunity to help out in so many ways.”

The fact that Anderson is still alive is sobering. The notion of living each day to its fullest no matter the obstacles is inspiring. And the desire to show others just what someone can do with an overwhelming will to live is exceptional.

So how Anderson performs at Saturday’s 2018 Shelby County Dancing with the Stars event is inconsequential. The fact that he is doing it just to prove it can be done is simply amazing.

The accident

Aug. 12, 2016, started out as a perfectly normal day in the life of Brandon Anderson. Along with a family friend, Anthony Schneider, a policeman, he headed out for Lake Cumberland, Kentucky, on his motorcycle.

While driving along in southern Indiana, a truck made an unexpected U-turn across Anderson’s path. He was thrown from his ride and his motorcycle landed on him, mangling his right leg. 

Anderson’s first thought was to get up. Schneider quickly stopped him as blood was pouring from his right leg. Schneider happened to have a trauma kit with him and helped Anderson apply a tourniquet to the leg. A short ambulance ride took him to an awaiting helicopter where he was hurried off to the University of Louisville hospital. 

Nesha Anderson arrived just before he went into surgery to attempt to restore a severed artery which could help save the leg. Several more procedures followed to preserve the leg but infections were winning out. 

That’s when Anderson had to make a tough decision. It was time to stop trying to save the leg and figure out the best option that would return him to his normal life.

The recovery

There was no blueprint for a fireman returning to full-time duty with a prosthesis. It simply had not been accomplished.

But Anderson first had to learn how to walk again.

“When I first started to learn how to walk with this (leg), learning movement of anything I do ... walking, stepping, kneeling ... everything is a different muscle memory now,” explained Anderson. “And that’s what I had to learn. From starting out walking with this, I felt like a toddler trying to learn how to walk again. I looked down at every step I took to make sure where that foot was going. And it’s been a little bit about trust and learning the feeling where I don’t have to look where that foot is anymore. Muscle memory has taught me to trust and know that it will be there.”

Walking was not enough for Anderson. He wanted to return to active duty despite being offered less physical options within the fire department.

“We don’t get called on everybody’s best day, and that’s one of the things I liked to do ... to help others out,” said Anderson of his desire to return to active duty. “I wasn’t willing to give that up just because of the circumstances I was put in. I wasn’t going to say I can’t do it until I proved I couldn’t do it. And I wasn’t going to take that lightly. 

“Since there was not that path paved ahead from someone doing it, there were a lot of hurdles along the way. And every time I jumped a hurdle and thought I had won, off in the distance was another hurdle. It was all about keeping the faith and the support around me and striving to pass that next hurdle and that next goal.”

Anderson had to re-learn how to be a firefighter without two strong legs to support him. 

“There was no doubt that that was what I wanted to do but there were doubts about what I was truly going to be able to do,” said Anderson. “I wasn’t willing to say I can’t do something without trying, without putting 100 percent effort into making sure I can or can’t. I wasn’t willing to give that up in myself. I didn’t want to give that up for my family and my boys. That is not something I’ve taught them – to walk away from something that’s hard.”

And the fire department was willing to give Anderson every opportunity to prove he could still do the job.

“All the guys I’ve worked with on the front line have been a huge support for me,” he said. “And I would never be where I’m at today without that support. They were willing to work with me. They were willing to train with me. And willing to stand back and look at me and be honest with me and say, ‘You can’t do it that way. You look uncomfortable. That’s not right. That’s the way you used to do it but we have to find a new way.’

“And they have helped me learn some of those new ways.”

A new day

On June 26, 2017, Anderson returned to active duty to continue a career more than a decade in the making.

In full gear, the prosthetic leg is not noticeable. But when Anderson is out in the community, whether it be Fishers or Fairland, the leg is a source of curiosity – one Anderson has no problem showing off.

“Sharing my story with people and letting them ask questions freely, giving them answers, explaining stuff to them, educating them about the situation of someone they may run into later in life, or with the same problem, or with a struggle in life so they may get through it. ... I hope it gives somebody a little support in their life so that they can get over a hurdle or a hardship in their life. That’s why I do it,” said Anderson. 

Ainsleigh Rund had never participated in Shelby County Dancing with the Stars but jumped at the chance to be Anderson’s partner once he agreed to compete. The Triton Central High School student, who has multiple national dance titles to her credit, knew Anderson’s story and was excited to help him with his next challenge.

“I cannot imagine going through that,” explained Rund of losing a limb. “I just don’t know how someone can be like, ‘OK, this is what God planned for me and I’m not going to give up. This is not a stopping point, this is a new direction.’

“And I think that has helped me so much. Even just making the decision of where I want to go to college, or what I want to do with my life ... that’s such a big thing.”

The dance

The dance routine was choreographed for Rund and Anderson, but changes and adaptations had to occur as the two figured out how to make it all work.

“I think this says a lot about her and who she is and her personality to take on the challenge of doing this with me,” said Anderson. “And knowing right out of the gate there are challenges and not knowing what I’m going to be capable of. It says a lot about her and who she is to be able to embrace that and go with it.”

Anderson admits the last time he publicly danced was likely his wedding. So the process of learning a dance routine has taken time and patience from his partner, who has been dancing for more than a decade.

“There were a couple of things (the choreographer) gave us that we were like, ‘Maybe not,” so we fixed them,” said Rund, the daughter of Caleb and Cressa Rund. “But he is awesome. There were a couple of things we were going to change but he said, ‘No. We’re going to do it.’

“I think it’s awesome how determined he is to do this.”

The event

Shelby County Dancing with the Stars is a major fundraiser event for Shelby Senior Services and Shelby County Players. It will be held Saturday night at Indiana Grand Racing & Casino in Shelbyville with 10 couple competing.

The Shelby County “Star” is challenged with raising money for the event which helps determine an overall winner. 

The 2017 champion was Andrea Lee and her dance partner, Keaton Kermode – Rund’s cousin, who has shared multiple dance championships with her. 

Anderson knows he won’t be the best “dancer” at the event. That was never why he agreed to perform. 

The real motivation goes back to Aug. 12, 2016, the day his life changed forever.

“I hope it helps inspire someone else to do something and not just sit back and take a backseat to everything going on around them and step up and get out of their comfort zone a little bit and live a full life,” said Anderson.

He already has a big fan in a Triton Central teenager.

“He is such an inspiration,” said Rund. “It’s one thing for somebody to tell you to never give up and another thing to see someone never give up. I am so honored and blessed to work with him. He is so cool.”