Eric Brodkin gets around.
He can’t walk, but he doesn’t let that stop him from doing much of anything — including staging strongman style events in which he competes only against himself.
Brodkin has cerebral palsy and he has used a wheelchair since fourth grade when an unsuccessful attempt at corrective surgery took away his ability to walk.
A few weeks ago, he pulled a semi-truck weighing around 1,400 pounds just to prove he could. Next on his agenda is an airplane, which he expects to weigh around 2,200 pounds.
Brodkin can’t actually move his legs, but he can lock his knees and stand. So to pull something heavy such as a truck he stands up and pulls on a rope in front of him, using almost solely upper body strength to move the truck, which sits behind him and is attached to his body with a harness.
A longtime workout enthusiast and gym rat, Brodkin is used to lifting heavy things. He’s also used to relying on his arms to push himself around. From his home on the west side of Manhattan, Brodkin wheels to and from the gym on most days, roughly 7 miles roundtrip.
Getting around may be more difficult for him than it is for most people, but Brodkin said it’s all relative.
“There’s a phrase I always say, and it’s that life is what you make it,” he said. “When you do the same thing every day, it becomes consistency versus work.”
He brings the same attitude to the gym, even when training to pull huge pieces of machinery — a goal he set after hearing someone say he wouldn’t be able to do it.
“I’m sorry, give me a reason,” he said. “And that’s basically when I started training for the semi pull.”
Brodkin said he hopes eventually to see more people with disabilities participating in similar events, but at the moment they’re few and far between.
“I don’t know anyone else who’s in a wheelchair who feels like pulling 1,400 pounds,” he said with a smile. “I’m just kind of trying to open doors, you know.
“Some people who are disabled, it seems to me they just do the bare minimum to get by; I want to do more than that.” Now 31 years old, Brodkin has visited all 50 states and has lived in several — Texas, New York, Florida, Massachusetts and Kansas. He takes pride in the number of people he’s befriended along the way. Brodkin was adopted when he was a baby and lived in Texas for most of his childhood. His dad was a podiatrist and his mom was an antique salesman, which he said gave his family a lot of opportunities to travel.
Though technically an only child in his adoptive family, he had a knack for finding siblings all around him.
“I try to befriend everyone who basically wants or needs a friend,” he said. When he was growing up, that sometimes meant inviting friends to come stay with him and his family for as long as they needed to. “Most of the kids that I brought in were having problems with their families, and they liked me and they liked my family,” he said. “So we just kind of fit them in.”
Brodkin has met many of his friends in Manhattan through the University Christian Church where he attends services and volunteers as a greeter.
One of his closest friends from the church is Chris Reinhardt, a K-State animal sciences professor, who said his first impression of Brodkin was his positive attitude and eagerness to get to know the people around him.
“He just accepts people very quickly and welcomes you into his family,” Reinhardt said. “He sort of collects family everywhere he goes, rather than relying like maybe the rest of us (do), closing off our walls and just calling our blood relatives our family.”
With connections across the country, Brodkin is able to move around often and explore new places. He lost both his parents fairly recently, so having a support network is more important than ever.
“Basically right now I’m just looking for a place to call home,” he said. “That’s the long and short of it.”
Brodkin is currently living in Manhattan for the third time, having moved here and back multiple times in recent years. Though a little way down the road, he said Colorado is where he’d like to go next.
“This is kind of my place in between places,” he said. “Kind of my little vacation home… just come to Manhattan, chill for a little while and then decide where else I want to go.”
Although he’s already decided on Colorado, Brodkin is putting off his next move until after he has added pulling an airplane to his list of personal achievements. He’s tentatively planning to hold the event sometime next spring.
Finding an airplane to pull would be a challenge for most people, but Brodkin isn’t worried — he has plenty of friends to help him out.