Brad Berman knows he’s going to run again. He just doesn’t know when, or how long it will take for him to get there.
Two years ago, Berman, a three-time marathoner, had a massive stroke caused by an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) in his brain. The condition is rare and seen in less than 1 percent of the population, according to the Mayo Clinic.
“Running is something I was very obsessed with before this. I don’t know how far I can take it, but I want to push it as far as I can.”
After his stroke, Berman’s wife, Jessica spearheaded a massive fundraising campaign for Burke Rehabilitation and Rehab in Westchester County. The $650,000 raised allowed the rehab center to purchase an EKSO Skeleton, a wearable bionic device recently approved by the FDA to help patients regain mobility.
“The theory behind the robotics is to re-connect the brain to the body is through massive amounts of repetitions, and no physical therapist could do it because they would be exhausted. The robots don’t get tired,” said Berman, who returned to his job as a tax lawyer for General Electric earlier this year, part-time. “To the extent I can do something myself, I do it, to the extent I need help, it assists.”
A team of 15 of Berman’s family and friends are running the New York City Marathon on Nov. 1 to continue raising money for the therapy that has helped him dramatically improve in the past two years. So far, they’ve raised more than $43,000 for the rehab center, and hope to make it to $100,000 by race day.
“I try to look at it year over year, because a year ago, the fact that I could get up, get showered, get dressed, make myself breakfast, drive here, I was so far from that,” Berman said. “Even though I’m doing a lot better, my attitude has been make it less about me and just see if we can help other people.”
Berman said he is a private person who was "initially very uncomfortable" sharing his story.
"But I got to see very quickly that all this stuff is benefiting me and more importantly benefiting other people, so I learned to get on board with it. I've had people come up to me in tears and say 'my daughter stood up for the first time in three years.'"
Gayle Striar Herman, a psychologist who is running her third marathon as part of Berman’s team, said she was running a race in 2014 when she saw Berman walk a mile and finish it, flanked by his family, a year after his stroke.
“I got lucky this year and got in through a general lottery spot, but I knew the race needed to be about more than me, which brought me back to Brad and Jessica. I put those two things together and they made so much sense. And, as a mother, I want to be able to show my kids you can pair your personal accomplishments with the greater good in the world,” Herman said.
Avrielle Rykman Peltz, chief operating officer of Burke’s restorative neurology clinic said Berman’s fundraising has allowed the rehab center two buy two new machines and help more than 100 patients.
A spokeswoman from the New York Road Runners said the number of charity runners for 2015 will be available after the Nov. 1 race. Last year, 8,500 charity runners raised $34.5 million dollars for various charities. A total of 50,530 people ran 26.2 miles through the five boroughs last year.
“Raising money for charity is part of our sport, there’s no doubt about it,” said Bart Yasso, Chief Running Officer at Runner’s World. “This has been going on for a while and it seems as popular as ever.”
Yasso said he saw a major shift in the 1980s away from races that benefited a specific charity to races that individuals could fundraise for the charity of their choice.
“Most of the people who are successful at doing it, there’s a connection. They’ve lost a loved one to cancer and are raising money for research. When you get an email from someone you know, it’s pretty easy to throw money that way … it feels good,” Yasso said.