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Defeating the Odds: CUNY Grad Turned Powerlifter Paves the Way for Aspiring Paraplegic Athletes

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If someone told Garrison Redd in 2006 that he would one day be an athlete training to participate in the 2024 Paris Paralympic Games, he may not have believed them. After being shot by a bullet on the right side of his chest during his senior year of high school, Redd had no choice but to give up his dream of dominating a college football field. And yet even paraplegia couldn’t take away Redd’s natural athleticism and drive for success. 

Because of the number of boundaries that exist for individuals with physical disabilities, Redd’s once-intense passion for sports disappeared after becoming paralyzed from the waist down. It wasn’t until years later that he conjured up the strength to attempt various wheelchair-friendly sports. Out of everything he tried, powerlifting ultimately called his name. 

Redd began seriously competing in para powerlifting after meeting John Gaglione, head trainer for the Team USA Paralympic powerlifting sector. They met at Gaglione’s gym in Farmingdale, Long Island, where Gaglione trains athletes in both performance and strength. It was then that Gaglione agreed to work with Redd and prepare him to compete professionally.  

Mary C. Hodge, a U.S. para powerlifting coach and powerlifting faculty member at Logan University, believes Redd’s hard work will pay off eventually. According to CUNY Athletics, Hodge reported that she feels strongly about his ability to be a contender for the Paralympic powerlifting team in Paris 2024. “In the last few years, I have seen him grow tremendously athletically, and I think he has great ability as a competitor,” says Hodge. 

When he isn’t benching 290-pound weights, Redd remains a vocal advocate for the disabled community at large through TEDx talks and various initiatives. In 2017, he founded a nonprofit called The Garrison Redd Project, which collaborates with companies to provide the resources they need to host inclusive events that  individuals with disabilities wouldn’t otherwise be able to participate in. 

As if his accomplishments weren’t impressive enough, Redd manages to do it all while being a student. He is currently looking into pursuing one of CUNY’s Masters of Public Administration programs and took courses at Medgar Evers College over the summer in preparation. Prior to that, he earned an associate degree from Kingsborough Community College and a bachelor’s degree in business from York College in 2012. 

Redd’s love for CUNY extends beyond academics, from being a prominent member of the CUNY Athletic Conference (CUNYAC) to constantly engaging in CUNY’s Americans with Disabilities (ADA) celebrations.  

On the 30th anniversary of the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez showcased his admiration for Redd’s relentless drive. “Garrison is emblematic of the kind of talent and determination that fuels the success of our students, alumni, faculty, and staff with disabilities. As we cheer Garrison’s unrelenting pursuit of his Paralympic dreams, we also applaud the very idea of a dream,” said Rodríguez. 

Redd is grateful for his parents, who have supported him unconditionally throughout his journey as a powerlifter. According to CUNY Athletics, “Redd says his parents reminded him about how much he could do. ‘They refused to let me sit around and feel sorry for myself,’ he said.” It’s Redd’s determination to continue overcoming countless hurdles and making both his family and the CUNY community gleam with pride. 

Today, Redd and Gaglione are both in the process of raising money to financially relieve Redd of traveling costs for competitions, as well as a new training bench that is more suitable for his body’s unique needs.

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