By JEFF HARRELL
South Bend Tribune
6:33 PM EST, February 23, 2013
The rider sped downward into the well of the ramp and launched his bike high into the air -- then landed in a hard crash.
Sitting high in bleachers on the opposite end of the crash spot inside "The Kitchen" skate park he owns, Brett Banasiewicz watched the crash landing without saying a word.
South Bend's 18-year-old BMX icon hasn't been able to speak since severely injuring his vocal cords and brain during his own horrifying crash in Virginia Beach in August last year, but his mother had a good idea what was going through his rehabilitating mind.
"I think he thought a kid just fell off his bike," says Lisa Banasiewicz.
That kid, who got back on his bike and continued pounding the ramp with twists, spins and gravity-defying flips, was one of the only casualties Saturday during the second annual Brett Banasciewicz BMX competition at The Kitchen.
But while Banasciewicz taking a break from rehab in Texas to attend the South Bend competition that bears his name was the day's highlight, his mother wanted to make sure that the competition was just that -- a BMX competition for the riders -- not a fundraiser.
"We're giving prize money to the pro riders," she says, sporting a black T-shirt with yellow letters spelling out her son's famous BMX moniker, "Maddog," a shirt being marketed by the Athlete Recovery Fund to raise money to help pay for Banasiewicz' medical costs.
The teen DK Bicycles pro continues in a traumatic brain injury rehabilitation facility in Frisco, Texas, working in an intense speech, cognitive and occupational physical therapy program that includes hyperbaric oxygen treatment.
Still working to regain his speech, several attendees at The Kitchen Saturday were overheard talking glowingly about watching Banasiewicz make it up and down stairs when he took his seat in the bleachers to watch the competition.
"His coordination is a little off," Lisa Banasiewicz says. "But he runs one mile and a half a day, and he kickboxes. Physically, he's as normal as a normal 18-year-old."
Rehabbing a severe brain injury and learning to speak all over again remain a work in progress.
"We're treating this like an aggressive disease," she adds. "The first year is critical."
Hope was cemented by a neurologist working with Banasiewicz in Texas, who said the teen is expected to make a full recovery.
Meanwhile, Lisa Banasiewicz has started a support group for parents of BMX riders injured in competition, and she's raising awareness for government certified helmets.
Her son was wearing a helmet when he crashed last Aug. 23 and wound up placed in a medically induced coma to control bleeding and swelling on his brain. But the helmet was inadequate, and lacking federal government safety certification.
Because of Lisa Banasiewicz' push for safer helmets, riders cannot compete in BMX, Due Tour or X Games competitions without wearing a government certified helmet.
"As a family we know this is a dangerous sport," Banasiewicz says. "Brett was always a natural. When he did fall, we were literally in shock. He never falls."
Now he's getting back up on his feet.
Next year, the hope is to get back up on the bike.
"Brett wants to return to life," Lisa Banasiewicz says. "His normal life is BMX. He is a professional athlete.
"The good thing is, he's 18 1/2 now. At 19 1/2 he'll be traveling the world. That's his goal since he woke up. He wants to ride."
Staff writer Jeff Harrell:
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