FridayPiday: Alex Goldmeier (Vermont, 2016)

What started as another day on the slopes in February 2018 quickly turned into a life-altering event for Brother Alex Goldmeier (Vermont, 2016). After losing control on a patch of ice, he hit a tree and suffered catastrophic injuries. His thoracic spine punctured his aorta, his face was shattered, he had broken nearly every bone in his body but miraculously lived. Unfortunately, survival came at a cost. Brother Goldmeier was left paralyzed from the chest down. He has no mobility, functionality or feeling in his legs.

“Now my hands are my legs, they’re how I get around to do everything. There are tough days and I don’t want to paint a picture that paralysis is easy. Not feeling below my chest was a huge barrier to conceptualize. I had to relearn everything. My independence was completely taken away.” 

The accident, though, hasn’t broken Brother Goldmeier’s spirit. He plans to hand cycle the TCS New York City Marathon in November with four other Zeta Pi Brothers. “Not only have Brothers been reaching out to me since the accident, but many are offering me resources to set me up for my future afterwards. The opportunities that have risen from my AEPi experience are insurmountable.”

Brothers Ben Raff (2016), Alex Goldenberg (2016), Teddy Gruer (2016) and Cameron Yellin-Falanga (2016) have all committed to running the marathon alongside Brother Goldmeier next month. Brother Raff commented on running the marathon, saying, “When I first heard about Alex’s accident, I asked: why him? Alex and I were at the same skiing level, it could have been any one of us. It’s unbelievable what progress he’s made since his spinal cord injury. He’s completely embraced his new life and it’s hard to put into words what an inspiration that is. If Alex can do this, I can. We’re beyond proud of him and our chapter for being supportive.” 

Brother Goldmeier is touched by his fraternity Brothers’ outreach. “These are my lifelong friends. Alex Goldenberg (pledge Brother and college roommate) was in the ICU with me while I was in New York. He kept the Brothers informed on my recovery and what was happening. From beginning to end, I know they’ll always be there.”

Clockwise from top-left: Brother Yellin-Falanga, Brother Raff, Brother Gruer, Brother Goldenberg

After the accident and undergoing multiple surgeries, he was flown out to Colorado to begin therapy with Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colorado. “Acceptance commitment therapy (ACT) was a huge part of my recovery. No matter what you’re overcoming, acceptance is the first step. I committed to the things that I love, my passion for psychology and the good I wanted to bring into this world.” His priority has always been to get into graduate school for psychology. Before his accident, he had several interviews with schools for their grad programs. “When I woke up in the hospital, I remember the first thing I asked my mom about was grad school. That was always the plan for me.” Focusing on his future after recovery, he was proud to be accepted into William James College, which is one of the top clinical programs in the country for a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD). Now, the sky’s the limit for him.

Not letting his spinal cord injury define him or stop him from pursuing his passions, he also took up adaptive sports. He’s done adaptive CrossFit, played tennis, golf, basketball, lacrosse, gone uphill and downhill mountain biking and is proud to be cycling the NYC Marathon. “I’ve played sports my entire life, so I needed adaptive sports to fill the void. I’d love to go as far as I can with tennis, maybe even the Paralympics.”

Brother Goldmeier credits the work of staff at the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation for helping him find control in his life again so quickly. “Life with paralysis is not affordable. Being an adaptive athlete can easily cost $1 million between medical expenses and equipment that insurance doesn’t cover. The hand cycle I’m using for the marathon costs like $3,000 or more, and I’m lucky that was donated to me. The Foundation lets you apply for grants and truly helped my life.” While he notes that many foundations have assisted him, the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation was there from the moment he made it to the ICU. They walked his family through everything step-by-step on what to do with his care and suggested Craig Hospital, which is one of the best spinal cord injury facilities in the U.S. “They relayed me to resources so I could recover in the best way possible. Without Craig Hospital, I don’t think I’d be as positive about my outcome or have made as much progress as I have.” 

Brother Goldmeier’s cousin ran the NYC Marathon last year and invited him to a luncheon that the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation hosts before the event. The Foundation asked him to speak about his experience and recovery, and it was then that he decided to commit to the 2019 marathon. “I was only eight months into my recovery at the time, but the spinal cord injury community has become like a family to me. Once I said I was committed, I couldn’t back out. The Foundation and others have been an essential part of my life, so it’s an honor to race for them.”

For the NYC Marathon, you either need to qualify or give to a charity supported by the marathon. All five Brothers decided to give to the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation in honor of Brother Goldmeier. Each Brother is attempting to raise $5,000 before race day. “Having my Brothers do this with me shows the support of AEPi. I never asked them to do this, I told them I was (doing the marathon and raising money) and they were amazed and quick to ask if they could join me. It’s humbling that my friends would step up to bat for me, and honestly hand cycling 26.2 miles is hard but running it is insane.” Brother Raff commented on training, saying, “I’m more nervous about the fundraising than training. Every week is different and sometimes having the right mindset is hard. Alex is inspiring though, not only for his determination, but his mental outlook on life and ability to focus on the present moment. He’s great at positive thinking. Our Zeta Pi Brothers have been incredibly receptive to contribute in whatever way they can. It’s funny how we all escaped big cities to come to Vermont, and found a Jewish community of our own there. Because of him, we’ve truly grown together as a chapter.”

“Yes, I’m only one year out and still have a lot of questions but life goes on. I may be new to the world of paralysis, but I want to show the world that it’s not stopping me. I’m living my life to the fullest,” said Brother Goldmeier. “I’ve been given the gift to show others a different perspective on life. Life is unpredictable and we can’t change certain events, but you can persevere through it. The problem isn’t the issue, it’s your attitude. Live in the now.” 

Help these Zeta Pi Brothers by sharing their story! You can also follow their progress on the Team Reeve donation site: Alex Goldmeier, Alex Goldenberg, Ben Raff, Cameron Yellin-Falanga and Teddy Gruer.