Greg Brigman will be making his Paralympic Games debut in Rio de Janeiro.
Greg Brigman is an engineer and self-professed numbers nerd. He has designed bridges and highways in Illinois and a boatlift on a lake in North Carolina.
Making cool things and solving problems is his life. A life he temporarily walked away from to pursue a dream of playing soccer in the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
“Making the team was a big relief because I gave up my job before I knew I was on the team,” Brigman said. “It was a burden at the time, but I had a lot of great support from my wife and my family.”
Brigman said he didn’t tell his coach he’d quit his job because he didn’t want any favoritism or special treatment because of the situation in which it left his family.
“He’s got to take the best players to represent the country, and there was a lot of hard work to get to this point,” Brigman said.
The journey began when Brigman was born with cerebral palsy. The native of Raeford, North Carolina, wore a brace on his left leg in an attempt to correct his physical disability, which also included clubfoot. Doctors extended his hamstring and Achilles tendon during a surgery when Brigman was in second grade.
Running and cutting on a field were difficult before the surgery, Brigman said.
“After the surgery I could run wide open and cut and turn more,” Brigman said. “I could be more of an athlete instead of just running straight.”
He began playing soccer and baseball after surgery, and got good at soccer. Really good. Despite the difference in muscular tone in his left leg and imbalance in posture, he rose to the varsity level for four years on his high school team and eventually was an all-conference right midfielder.
“Soccer became therapeutic for me,” Brigman said. “It forced me to work on agility and balance issues.”
While in high school, he stopped taking band and got more interested in AutoCAD and took computer aid drafting classes.
“I always wanted to design things like buildings, racecars and energy systems,” Brigman said. “By my senior year, I knew I wanted to build buildings and design bridges. Structures are what I wanted to do.”
Brigman said he wanted to be a problem solver — more than just jigsaw and Sudoku puzzles. He earned a bachelor’s of civil engineering at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2009. He remained at UNCC to earn a bachelor’s in math in 2010 and finally a master’s degree in civil engineering by 2013.
“2009 and 2010 was a hard time to graduate and go into the workforce because we were at a low point in the economy, so I stayed to get my master’s,” Brigman said.
After playing intramural soccer in college, Brigman took up refereeing. He became proficient as an official to the point he has been a referee at the youth, club, high school, collegiate and lower professional levels. When he began officiating, he met someone who inspired him to join the Paralympic ranks.
Brigman still has physical deficiencies in his left leg, most notably in muscle tone.
“I also have balance issues, mostly because one leg is stronger than the other,” Brigman said.
He also had some weight issues. Brigman, who stands 5-foot-5, tipped the scales at 191 pounds during measurements in March. He went on a stringent diet to complement his running and training, and now weighs a trim 156 pounds as of August body compositions.
Since graduate school, Brigman has held two positions — one in Illinois and another in North Carolina, where he designed a boatlift for Lake Norman, just north of Charlotte.
Brigman said he spent too much time away from work getting ready for soccer in his dream of making Team USA, but that it was worth it.
“I’ve only played in five international games and I’ve never scored a goal in any of those,” Brigman said. “It would be nice to get that first goal in Rio.”
Scott McDonald has 18 years experience in sports reporting. He was named the State Sports Writer of the Year in 2014 by the Texas High School Coaches Association. McDonald is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.