When Ben Hildebrant was 16, his father would push his wheelchair down Peachtree Road, from the Shepherd Center to a nearby restaurant.
Nearly nine years later, Hildebrant ran nearly six miles down the street on his own two feet.
The Hall County native was temporarily paralyzed after an injury from a diving accident in 2007. Today, he is a husband, father and science teacher at Eagle Ranch in Flowery Branch, and he ran the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta on Monday.
“It was quite an emotional moment for me and my dad and my mom,” Hildebrant said. “My dad was with me every day in the daily grind, taking care of me through my recovery. For me to be able to run the Peachtree on the road we were on together, it was kind of surreal and definitely significant.”
On July 31, 2007, a 16-year-old Hildebrant was swimming at a friend’s house when he suffered a fracture of the C-5 vertebra.
“I dove into the pool, and I don’t really know how or what happened, but we believe I may have hit the corner of the wall,” he said. “All of a sudden, I was paralyzed from the chest down. It happened so fast.
“All I remember is diving in and then not being able to move.”
Hildebrant spent three months at the Shepherd Center, a private, specialty hospital on Peachtree Road in Atlanta, devoted to spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation.
“It was hard,” he said. “At the Shepherd Spinal Center, one of the things they teach you is how to live the ‘new normal,’ because life is going to be different.”
Hildebrant spent those months learning to walk again and to use his left hand in the meantime. Though he can now walk and run, he said his life is forever changed following the injury.
“It’s still different for me because of my injury, how I was injured and where I was injured,” he said. “The right side of my body is still partially paralyzed. So I have a noticeable limp, and my right hand can kind of draw up from time to time.”
Despite this, Hildebrant successfully completed the Peachtree Road Race on Monday, running most of the race’s 6.2 miles.
“It was good,” he said. “It was hot — my goodness, it was so hot. But the race was good, and I enjoyed it. It was definitely the longest I’ve run. Even in my training, I hadn’t gotten to that distance.”
He credited his wife, Courtney, who ran with him the whole way.
“She was an amazing encouragement to me,” he said. “We went at my pace, which was pretty good to begin with. The last couple miles were tougher, but it was good.”
He also mentioned his parents, Loren and Sharon Hildebrant, and his 9-month-old daughter, Talley, for their motivation. He said his wife is expecting their second child in January.
After the race Monday, Hildebrant said he realized a moment of coming “full circle.”
“My dad was my primary caregiver back then when I was a patient at Shepherd,” He said. “We went on a lot of trips, going down to a restaurant down Peachtree. I would be in my wheelchair and he’d walk me. I get a little emotional thinking about it now.
“It didn’t really hit me until after, but to run the Peachtree, the significance of being able to run in front of the place that took three months of my life when I was just 16 years old is hard to explain. It was such an important place to us, and it is still an important place to us.”