Brenda Frelsi, 62, Glendive, Montana
When Brenda Frelsi tells you about hard knocks in her life, she means it literally.
Until she was 45, the Wyoming native had enjoyed a relatively normal and active life. Winter sports is her passion, and one day she was skiing with her 8-year-old daughter Sarah and they decided to race on densely packed snow that was icy in places. “I only remember that feeling of my skis being yanked off and the sound of my helmet hitting the ice,” she recalls. “I had only worn a helmet a few times, but it definitely saved my life.”
The impact caused damage and bleeding on her brain, along with memory lapses and loss of physical abilities, but she was not one to take it lying down. “I can’t imagine not being outside and part of a community of active people,” she asserts. “I feel like I was born with a drive to be physically active, so to give that up would have been a life of depression.”
Brenda decided the best way to regain movement was to ‘get back on the horse’ by using cross country skiing and biking as part of her slow physical rehabilitation process. “The short-term memory loss came back within a few months, but I remained clumsy. My brain takes so long to tell my limbs what to do that if I tripped I was already on the floor before my body could react,” she explains. “But I have learned two things from this: First, give your brain up to ten years to reconnect pathways and repair what it can. Secondly, whatever is hard for you to do, do it over and over to regain what you can.”
Three years and many falls later, she found more steady ski legs, and only two years after that she entered the Wyoming Senior Winter Games and won both the 5K skate and the 5K cross country ski races. She felt burned out on running after high school and college, so she didn’t think Summer Games were for her until she compared times in past National Senior Games and realized she could be competitive.
While more of a mid-distance runner, Brenda decided to try sprints and also enter field events in long jump, triple jump and shot put. In her debut 2013 appearance in Cleveland, she surprised herself by earning two medals and was hooked. She enthusiastically says, “I was going to go once, but I had so much fun I kept going!”
In four trips she has now racked up eight national medals, including three as part of a 4×100 relay team. The career Lutheran pastor relocated from Casper to northeast Montana two years ago and has her sights set on competing in the Montana Senior Games and testing her progress next May in the 2022 National Senior Games presented by Humana.
Brenda is grateful for regaining enough ability to compete and stay active. “I’m still robotic. My right side and left side don’t work in rhythm. But I’m doing it,” she says. “While I am still somewhat clumsy, training and competing in the Senior Games has brought me more health and ability than anyone, including my doctor, ever thought possible.”
Editor’s Note: March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. Learn more here.