Powerlifting Gave Garrison Redd A New Athletic Purpose
by Stephen Kerr
Garrison Redd was a promising high school football player before gun violence left him unable to walk. The discovery of Para powerlifting in recent years not only reignited his love for sports, but also provided him a new opportunity to compete at an elite level.
In August, Redd was one of four U.S. athletes who traveled to Dubai, UAE, for the World Para Powerlifting Championships. Before competing at worlds, Redd’s teammates voted him to be as the flag bearer at the competition’s opening ceremony.
“Being a flag bearer for Team USA is an amazing experience,” Redd said. “It’s a sense of honor, especially for your teammates to vote you in.”
Redd’s journey to powerlifting was an unexpected one. As a kid growing up in the Brownsville and Crown Heights neighborhoods of Brooklyn, Redd’s sport of choice was football. A running back at James Madison High School, Redd received letters from several Division I schools and had aspirations of playing in the NFL.
“My father played high school football, and he was the one who introduced me to it at a young age,” recalled Redd, now 35.
That all changed one summer night before his senior year. On August 14, 2005, Redd and a group of friends were outside his house preparing to leave for an amusement park. A stranger walked up to them and asked for directions, then suddenly pulled a gun and began shooting.
Redd, the closest one to the shooter, was struck in the back. The bullet burned nerves that surrounded the T12 vertebra in his spine, leaving him a paraplegic.
Redd spent time recovering in a rehabilitation hospital and continued rehab on an outpatient basis. Within six months of being discharged, he was back at school.
The challenges of dealing with a disability at such a young age took several years to process. Graduating from high school and earning a bachelor’s degree in finance from York College in Queens convinced Redd his life was just beginning.
“Once I graduated college is when I pretty much fully accepted the injury,” Redd said. “At that point, I accomplished a goal of mine I didn’t think I would be able to with my new ability.”
Other than going to a gym to work out, Redd didn’t play sports after the shooting. One day, an athlete from the Wheelchair Sports Federation introduced him to wheelchair football. Redd then met WSF’s founder, John Hamre, who took an interest in him.
“He saw something in me that he knew I would at some point be a world-class athlete,” Redd said.
Hamre, also an executive vice president for the Wounded Warrior Project, connected Redd with several Paralympic organizations, including the Navigators Adaptive Sports Club in Bayonne, New Jersey. Redd competed in wheelchair racing and field sports before discovering his love of powerlifting.
In 2018, Redd attended a camp in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where several Team USA powerlifting coaches were present. After Redd’s impressive showing there, coaches encouraged him to train for a spot on the U.S. Para powerlifting team.
Redd began training under the direction of John Gaglione, a strength and performance coach. The two met at an instructional camp that just happened to be in Long Island, not far from where Redd lives in Brooklyn.
“Fate put us together,” Redd said. “At that time, (Gaglione) didn’t have any adaptive lifters. He was looking to get involved, and I needed a trainer. That’s how we connected.”
Redd competed in his first Para powerlifting competition in 2019. Two years later, he was lifting at the world championships in Tbilisi, Georgia, where he successfully completed one of his three lifts.
“I had a lot of anxiety,” he said. “At that stage in powerlifting, I was just beginning and was still learning a lot. But over time, I see that I’ve progressed, which from a mental point of view made it a lot easier for me to perform at a high level.”
At the most recent world championships, Redd competed in the 65 kg. class and again went one-for-three, successfully lifting 127 kg.
His performance taught him a great deal about what he needs to work on.
“I opened up at the highest I ever did,” Redd said about his successful opening lift. “I learned a lot. I look forward to hitting some pretty good numbers in my next competition.”
A believer in accessibility and inclusivity in all aspects of life, Redd has become a strong advocate for people with disabilities. In 2017, he started a nonprofit organization, called the Garrison Redd Project, which strives to provide people with disabilities the opportunity to gain independence through wellness initiatives and workshops. A certified personal trainer, Redd offers tips on nutrition and exercises for disabled individuals.
“I wanted to give other individuals some opportunities that I didn’t necessarily have,” Redd said. “Once I found those resources, they benefited me, and I know they will benefit other individuals.”
Redd’s dream of becoming a professional football player has been replaced with a new one: to represent Team USA at the Paralympic Games Paris 2024. He currently trains four times a week, focusing on strength training and will compete for Team USA at next month's Parapan American Games in Santiago, Chile.
“From a technical standpoint, I’m pretty decent,” he said. “Now it’s time to work on getting as strong as possible.”
Stephen Kerr is a freelance journalist and newsletter publisher based in Austin, Texas. He is a contributor to USParaPowerlifting.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. You can follow him on Twitter @smkwriter1.