The past few months have been a whirlwind for U.S. Paralympic National Team player Josh Brunais. From being selected to represent his country at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro to representing Team USA in meet-and-greet with President Barack Obama, Brunais has found a way to make the most out of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The midfielder, who is usually a reserved person, was initially hesitant to share his story through U.S. Soccer’s “One Nation. One Team. 14 Stories.” series about the PNT.
“To be honest, at first I was really nervous,” Brunais told ussoccer.com. “I’m not a big fan of sharing my background. I always try to keep things low-key. But after talking to my coach (Stuart Sharp) and everybody else around me, just knowing that I would have the opportunity to inspire others meant a lot to me.”
As the Paralympics came to a close, the Army veteran found himself in a fortunate situation: he was selected by all of Team USA to serve as the flag bearer for the U.S. in the closing ceremony. To say he was incredibly honored and humbled would be an understatement, and although he credits teammate Seth Jahn for lobbying for him to get selected, he held the USA flag as tall and proud as he could to show the world that Team USA was in the building.
“I don’t know how he did it, but Seth Jahn was my representative and he must’ve been the best wordsmith ever because he made it happen,” Brunais said. “I was selected and I’ve now carried the flag in two capacities – one overseas while deployed and one representing all the U.S. Paralympic athletes. It meant the world to me.”
If meeting the President was never on Brunais’ radar, standing next to President Obama during a speech and thanking him on behalf of Team USA was beyond his greatest expectations. He was told about an hour prior to the visit to the White House that he and Olympic Gold Medal gymnast Simone Biles would serve as the representatives who would present a pair of signed surfboards to the President as a “thank you” from the entire Olympic delegation. Although his nerves almost got the best of him, he managed to put a quick thank-you speech together, earning a thumbs up from President Obama.
The highlight of this experience, however, was when Vice President Joe Biden grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him in as President Obama was speaking.
“He asked me if I had another four years left in me,” Brunais commented. “I immediately said ‘Of course, sir!’ I had to let him know that there’s no doubt I’ll stick around.”
Following a surreal day at the White House, Brunais embarked on another unexpected adventure, this time serving as an honorary captain for the Washington Spirit before a crucial playoff match.
The PNT midfielder has been a fan of the Spirit and the U.S. WNT’s Ali Krieger for quite some time. Although the pair had never met, they grew up in close proximity and attended rival high schools in Northern Virginia. So when his selection as flag bearer was announced, Krieger tweeted congratulations to him and invited him to a Spirit match. The two finally met a few days before the game at a Team USA banquet in the nation’s capital and coordinated plans for Friday’s big game. Match day rolled around and Brunais shook many hands, performed his honorary captain duties, and enjoyed watching Washington take home a “W” in the NWSL Semifinals.
While each these experiences have been life-changing for Brunais, he knows none of it would have been possible without his teammates. In Brunais’ mind, Jahn said it best in a passionate open letter to the PNT.
“Usually people will refer to teammates and fellow athletes as a second family, but to me they are equivalent to my first family. They’re right there on that level,” said Brunais. “Since my life has changed and things have gotten a little harder, being around them makes everything easier. They understand what I’m going through. This team has given me a new drive and focus in life after I got out of the military. They were all part of that; they’ve helped me when I’ve had good days and bad days. I can’t thank them enough.”
Looking back at the past few months, Brunais believes his biggest takeaway is how he’s been able to turn things around in soccer and in life thanks to the team.
“I was able to find myself and become an athlete again, something that had always been a part of my life,” Brunais stated. “I’m incredibly grateful.”
As for the future, he wants to continue improving individually, but even more so push the PNT higher and higher until they reach the number one spot in the world.