Brady Tanner and his family members were all smiles on March 16, the day that he was inducted into the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame, joining sports legends such as Jim Thorpe and Billy Mills.
This latest honor capped many years of exceptional achievements on and off the mat for the 32-year-old powerlifter, who is one-quarter Cherokee. He and his family live in Lawrence, Kan., and are members of the Wakarusa Valley Ward, Topeka Kansas Stake.
Brady's future athletic prowess and accomplishments were unimaginable to his parents, Gary and Janie Tanner, when he was born two months prematurely, weighing only four pounds. He didn't walk until he was 3 years old.
Diagnosed with Rubenstein-Taybi Syndrome, which delays mental growth and impairs speech development, Brady didn't talk until he was 6 — and then only family members could understand him. He would later be classified as trainable mentally handicapped.
Sister Tanner said, "Raising a handicapped child is not an easy task. Gary and I had faith in God and knew we had to trust in Him that He wouldn't give us more than we could handle. We depended on our Heavenly Father to help us do the best for our son. As Brady grew, our faith also grew. We came to realize that we were the lucky parents who were chosen to raise this special child. No longer did I feel sorry for myself and wonder 'Why me?' I was excited that God chose us."
Brady's parents discovered that their son was special in many ways. Sister Tanner explained that, because of his RTS, "Brady has no negative initiative thinking, which means he enjoys everything he does, everyone he meets and is always a very happy young man."
She added, "Brady has an incredible spirit and has taught everyone he comes into contact with how to love life and live it to the fullest. Brady doesn't use his handicap as an excuse to get out of doing things; he uses it to push himself harder."
Pushing himself hard is just what he has done to develop another special gift: physical strength.
He was exposed to weightlifting in high school. In 2002 he started training for and competing in powerlifting competitions. With his parents as his initial trainers, Brady worked out four days a week, two hours a day, in the gym at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, where his father was the coach of the HINU football team. His two now-married sisters, Jamie Davis and Jennifer Morris, also spent many hours helping him with his workouts.
Brady Tanner's training, determination and positive attitude have paid off.
In 2006, he went to the first Special Olympics National Games in Ames, Iowa, and won gold medals in the bench press and dead lift events and a bronze in the squat. When he returned home, he needed surgery for torn cartilage in one knee, but he didn't let his injury stop him. As soon as the doctor gave permission, he was back to lifting.
In 2009 he was selected by a different group, the Natural Athletic Strength Association, as the runner up in its Athlete of the Year competition, which was open to all member athletes, not just Special Olympics athletes.
In July 2011, he represented the United States in the World Special Olympics Games, in Athens, Greece. Nearly 7,000 athletes from 120 countries participated in events at the World Games, which included 21 sports. Brady, who weighed four pounds at birth, was a powerlifter in the 242 lbs. weight class.
He came home from Athens with three gold medals and a silver medal. He won gold in the bench press (335 lbs.), gold in the deadlift (525 lbs.), silver in the squat (500 lbs.) and gold in the overall combination lift (1360 lbs.).
His mother said, "Brady is exciting to watch because he gets so pumped up and is very enthusiastic. While in Athens, he was an inspiration and an example to all. His coaches said the enthusiasm he brought to the practices was contagious and helped the other athletes work hard and have fun."
When he returned from Greece, he was awarded the Kansas City Sports Commission's Special Athlete Achievement Award, which is given to athletes from the greater Kansas City area for outstanding achievements in athletics. Representing the field of sports, he was also named by the Topeka Capital-Journal as one of eight "Distinguished Kansans" for 2011.
Since returning from Greece, Brady has continued to work at his food service job at the University of Kansas; work out four days a week, two hours a day; compete in other meets; and win first-place awards.
While very pleased with his athletic accomplishments and accolades, his parents are also very excited and grateful for his recent spiritual progress.
Because of his difficulty with language, which his mother said is on about the level of a 5-year-old, Brady lost interest for a few years in attending Church. About a year ago, a concerned friend from his ward, Wayne Lahman, suggested to their bishop that he call a teacher to work one-on-one with Brady. The bishop then called Brother Lahman to be that teacher.
Sister Tanner said that her son made great spiritual strides with the help of his personal spiritual trainer. After his Sunday classes, Brady excitedly would tell his parents — in speech that only they could understand — what he learned that day about the gospel. After Brother Lahman moved, Brady has continued to make good progress with ward member Matt Garrett as his teacher.
Sister Tanner gets excited when she talks about her son's experience when he attended the open house for the Kansas City Missouri Temple last year. "His eyes lit up, and I knew that he got it! He understood why we have temples!"
To the joy of his parents, Brady, a 32-year-old deacon, is now passing the sacrament at Church. The new, unassuming inductee to the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame continues to be an inspiration to others, both on and off the athletic mat.