BOZEMAN — When 15-year-old Ridley Brandmayr lost his hand traumatically in 2017, the idea of competing in a sport such as football down the road may have seemed far-fetched.
However, if there’s one lesson the now sophomore at Bozeman High embodies, it’s that life has no limitations except the ones you make.
“Over the summer, my dad and I - my family - we were grinding up parts of my deer to make more venison, and my hand got stuck in the meat grinder while I was pushing meat down into the funnel area," Brandmayr recalled.
At just 11-years old, Brandmayr was rushed to Bozeman Deaconess Hospital and eventually airlifted to Salt Lake City where he underwent multiple surgeries.
“First year was tough because everyone was asking and I was still new to it and new to how to answer people and was still working through the trauma that occurred with the accident," Brandmayr said. "It definitely was hard to adjust.”
However, Brandmayr was able to find an escape in sports returning to the soccer field just months after the accident. This also happened to be around the same time Shaquem Griffin, whose left hand is amputated, was emerging as an NFL draft prospect while playing for the University of Central Florida.
“I remember we went out to eat about a year after my accident, and I was watching college football, and all of a sudden I saw a linebacker who was missing almost the exact same amputation as mine, just a little above the wrist on his left arm," Brandmayr remembered.
Amazed by what he saw, Brandmayr began following Griffin's career while sparking interest in his own pursuit of playing football once he got to high school.
When the time came, the soon-to-be two-way player for the Hawks ended up going to the same clinic as Griffin for a special prosthetic uniquely made for weightlifting.
“We went to Seattle," Brandmayr said. "At Hanger Clinic, Ryan [Blanck] made me an attachment where I can strap it down to my forearm, and it looks like a lego hand, so I can bench press safely. I can do dumbbell curls safely.”
In addition, the Challenged Athletes Foundation also gifted Brandmayr a grant so he was able to get a special football glove that is customized perfectly to fit his amputation.
“It’s a perfect example of having to persevere through something that you did not expect to happen to you in life, and that’s kind of what we talk about in football all the time," Bozeman JV head football coach Sean Dellwo said. "He’s a great leader, so it’s great for all of us - coaches, kids, doesn’t matter who’s on the field. We’re all inspired by Ridley.”
“It’s become so normal for me that I don’t think about it as much anymore, but definitely around June I really think back to how far I’ve come, what happened, what it’s taken, all the emotional energy and physical energy that my family and I have put into getting me to where I am today and making it possible so I can play football with my friends and be in this great community," Brandmayr said.