Blue Breakfast Speaker Gary Brackett On Overcoming Family Loss

Former Colts linebacker Gary Brackett found himself in a familiar place on Tuesday morning.

“Every time I drive to 7001 West 56th Street, I kind of get nostalgia,” he said. “I know that address by heart because for nine years, this was my home. And I have a lot of fond memories in this room, on that field, inside of that locker room.”

The keynote speaker at the Blue Breakfast at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, Brackett overcame many losses – not all on the football field.

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“I think in everyone’s life, we all have a story. And I think in everyone’s story, there’s probably a little bit of tragedy and there’s probably a little bit of triumph.”

For Brackett, tragedy struck in October of 2003, his first season in the NFL.

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“That October, I lost my father. I was a rookie here so a lot of people didn’t even know when I left that I was going to bury my father. They just thought I was missing time because it was our bye week.”

The following February, his mom went into the hospital for routine surgery and never came out.

Like many NFL players, Brackett’s dream was to buy his mother a house, which she had already been planning for some time.

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“The house that she was preparing for was not her physical house, but was her heaven house. I was excited for her that she had gotten her opportunity to prepare for her eternal home.”

During that time, Brackett’s brother, who was three years older, was diagnosed with leukemia. In an effort to save his life, Brackett donated his bone marrow. It extended his brother’s life, but the cancer eventually won.

At 24 years old, Gary Brackett lost three of the most important people in his life in just 17 months. And he knew he couldn’t get through it alone.

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“I have a brother in this room, David Thornton, who was instrumental in the process of my healing and really getting me back to where I needed to be as a man and as a leader. So, I sought help.”

Brackett credits Thornton, director of player engagement for the Colts, with not only getting him back to himself, but making him a better man. The man he is today – a husband, a father, and a business owner.

“Most people think going to seek help, they think people do it because they’re weak. And that’s a myth. I think people seek help not because they’re weak, but because they want to remain strong.”

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People need coaching, said Brackett, because it’s hard to see the picture when they’re inside the frame.

“I think so many people in life give up. They use the excuse that everything that happened to me, I have every right to give up. But I feel like that’s a bad way to look at it. I think I did what a lot of women in this room and a lot of women in Coburn Place did. I got knocked down, but I lifted myself up.”

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Women like Tamika, who sought refuge for herself and her unborn child from an abusive partner. Today, she’s a college graduate who’s raising her son, completing her masters degree, and is happily married to a man she calls her best friend.

On the field and in life, sometimes people just need a helping hand. Even people like Gary Brackett.

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“I don’t necessarily believe in hand outs, but what I do believe in is hand ups,” he said. “And I think the good people at Coburn Place do exactly that.”

Coburn Place is a safe haven that provides temporary housing to victims and children of domestic violence. Over the past 20 years, they’ve helped 1,700 victims escape abuse and rebuild their lives.