March 2022 Update
When we first shared Rick’s story in 2018 he had just returned home to live independently after sustaining a brain injury in a tandem biking accident, in which he lost his wife Shelley. Today, Rick is doing so much more than that. He is living each day to the fullest, often finding comfort in things he & Shelley enjoyed doing together — photography, traveling, and biking.
In just the past few years, Rick has taken several trips of a lifetime, including cruises to the Caribbean, the Western Mediterranean, and the Greek Islands – places he & Shelley planned to visit. During his adventures he joined a group bike ride in Italy and Venice, went snorkeling, visited Olympia where the first Olympics were held, and went sightseeing at the Parthenon. By the end of one of his trips Rick took over 2,000 photographs, a few of his favorites are below.
Rick’s passion for helping others and sharing his experiences is stronger than ever. He spends much of his time volunteering and supporting others, which helps him stay positive and gives him a sense of purpose. He assists with meetings at a grief support group, runs the sound system at his local church, and is also on the steering committee for the Lansing Chapter of the Brain Injury Association of Michigan, just to name a few.
Living with a brain injury comes with its challenges, but Rick conquers each day with a positive attitude, and is proud of his accomplishments as brain injury survivor – and so are we.
Original Story: April 24, 2018
No one would blame Rick Pulliam for being bitter. After all, he lost so much.
He lost the ability to walk. His short term memory. The love of his life.
And he lost it all in an instant.
But as it turns out, Rick is not your average patient. He doesn’t focus on what he’s lost. Rather, he focuses on what he continues to gain.
And he’s become an inspiration to others.
On January 21, 2017, Rick and his wife Shelley were riding a tandem bike near their home in Bellevue, Michigan. An activity they’d enjoyed throughout their 45 year marriage, Rick and Shelley were world travelers and bicyclists, well prepared for travel on the road; outfitted with helmets, rearview mirrors, and a pair of red flashing lights.
What they weren’t prepared for was the car that hit them from behind.
Shelley was killed instantly. Rick was left with multiple fractures, a traumatic brain injury, and an uncertain future.
But what he wasn’t left with was a negative outlook on the road ahead
In fact, despite the painful process of confronting loss – both physical and emotional—Rick felt a sense of ease and anticipation from the moment he first toured the Hope Network Neuro Rehabilitation campus.
“Everyone always had a smile and said hello,” Rick says of his experience at Hope. “Before I was even admitted I was able to explore where I’d be staying and some of the rehab facilities I’d be using. It really put my fears to rest. I knew I needed a positive attitude to help me through this adventure and this was the place to do it.”
His optimism didn’t go unnoticed by Rick’s therapists.
“If Rick had a bad day, it never showed,” says Stacey VanKlompenberg, Rick’s therapeutic recreation specialist. “He understood there was an importance in each of his therapies, and he participated with a sense of humor and a competitive drive. He knew the main focus was to get better and go home.”
“‘I believe in comebacks‘ is the motto for Hope Network, and it has become mine as well,” Rick explains. “I knew if I wanted to be as healthy as I was prior to the accident, missing therapy was not an option. Rehab was a 9 to 5 job. I even asked for homework to do over the weekends. Each victory was huge for me.”
While most would consider returning home to be the ultimate triumph, Rick views his greatest success as one he didn’t even know happened until much later.
“One day during an outpatient appointment, a patient stopped to ask if I remembered a group speech therapy session we had weeks before, where I shared the belief that having a positive attitude was helping with my progress,” Rick recalls. “At the time, he admitted he was a bit negative towards this idea. However, he really wanted to go home, so he decided to try changing his outlook. If having a positive attitude worked for me, then it should work for him too. He said he felt like he has been making comebacks ever since. That was by far my biggest victory.”
“Rick was often seen encouraging people and providing words of inspiration to his fellow survivors,” Stacey confirms. “Despite his loss, his focus was always on getting better and being an inspiration to others.”
Rick took that inspiration to the next level when he recently shared his story with the Hope Network Board of Directors as well as over 100 leadership and staff.
“I was shocked and surprised,” Rick says of being asked to present to such a large and prestigious group. “When [Hope Network CEO] Phil Weaver quoted something from my talk in his closing remarks, I felt like I had made an impression on him and others attending the event. It was a real honor.”
Today, Rick has returned to living in the home that he and Shelley shared. While no longer tandem, Rick is bike riding once again using a specialized recumbent bike. And, he hopes to have more platforms to share his story so others facing similar challenges can look forward with optimism and faith.
“In some ways I’ve become an advocate for people in wheelchairs or those using walkers or canes. While I do not know their stories, I do have an inkling of the effort it takes to participate in life while using these devices. I’ve been there, so if I can share my experiences, and have them relate, then that is a small, but important success. I think Shelly would be proud of me, especially for all the time and effort I have expended on this journey.”
Indeed Rick. We have no doubt Shelley has been with you throughout this journey too.