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Photo by Andrew Spear
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Photo by Andrew Spear
Photo by Andrew Spear

No Limits

Brian Kellett is a racecar driver.

He just happens to be entirely paralyzed from the waist down.

“When I think about how I deal with everything, it all comes back to just being thankful that I didn’t die,” he says. “Not having mobility in your legs in today’s day and age, it’s not really a big deal.”

And this is what it’s like to meet Brian Kellett, a risk taker and businessman making remarkable tracks in the world—and not just for someone living with a disability.

Not only does he casually shrug off the struggles of living life in a wheelchair, he sees it as a blessing—and not in that cliché “God opens a window” sort of way.

Rather, it’s shown him the true good in people; what extreme kindness they can afford when they meet someone in need. Whether that’s opening a door for him or helping him put his chair into the car when he drives.

Kellett was kind enough to let me tag along for a ride. There’s no a better way to get to know a person than when they hold their safety and yours in their own two hands—literally.

When he’s not behind the wheel, he’s behind the counter at Stump, the tranquil plant shop he runs in the Italian Village with his partner, Emily. At his shop, he’s still the same amiable character, but with only a trace of the fire that presents itself when he slides into the driver’s seat. He’s calm, quiet, and while he casually arranges inventory in the store, I can’t help but think of him one month earlier at the Mid-Ohio Race Track.

 

There, Kellett’s personality shifts into a different gear. When we meet, his hands are wringing on the wheels of his wheelchair—the same hands that would swoop himself directly into the racing seat and careen us around the track at blistering speeds, maneuvering the wheel with just a turn of his wrists.

You can see first-hand that behind the wheel—under the cacophony of car engines and squealing tires—Kellett is everything but paralyzed. Which is partly the point: this isn’t just Kellett’s place of Zen, it’s a level playing field. The disability that he’s lived with for the past 13 years presents neither an advantage nor disadvantage.

And more than anything, Kellett exhibits control amid the chaos. In the blink of an eye we jump from 45 mph to 75 mph, then suddenly to more than 100 mph. We whizz around the track—the air forcing its way into our lungs, the tone of the acceleration changing with each gear. The car’s mechanics trundled under my seat; some higher-level cars would wave at us so we could pass. Kellett’s body was securely strapped into a fancy race chair, and I enviously flopped around in my seat as the car sped to 120 mph.

Everything functions entirely on Kellett’s steady hands and watchful eyes, the brake and acceleration manipulated by a handle left of the wheel, his right-hand steady and gripping the wheel.

Control.

The irony is that control played a central part in Kellett’s paralysis more than a decade ago. Not being careful, he says, is what led to him being trapped under the weight of his motorbike.

Rather than wallow in self-pity, Kellett has owned it, “fully in control of why I got hurt,” in his words. Accepting fault the his accident has helped him move on, determined to use his remaining tools in a careful way.

“It was very easy to accept from day one that sometimes you mess up. I’ve always been thankful that I still have my hands and I still have my head. I can’t ever—even for a minute—be bitter about who I am, or that I have to be in the chair.”

More than anything, it’s transformed Kellett into a master strategist. Everyday activities like hopping in his two-door coupe or the shop’s delivery van can become an arduous task. True to Kellett’s spirit, it’s a mental and physical challenge that he’s up for.

“Being in a wheelchair has taught me so much—I don’t get frustrated about [small] things,” he said. “This world was built for people to walk around. When you’re in a chair, you have to problem-solve and improvise a lot and be okay with being uncomfortable.”

Like flopping around the passenger seat of a racecar. Thoughtfulness, acceptance, courage—it’s not likely I’ll leave any lessons on the track.

Kellett may not see himself as a master motivator or a role model, but I do. His simple message for anyone who limits themselves is a proper mantra for us all:

“Be happy of your head and be happy of your hands; you can do a lot of stuff.”

Racecar driver, plant lover, photographer—enjoy the world of Brian Kellett at thebriankellett.com. For more on his plant shop, visit stumpplants.com.

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