STOCKTON — Bryan Stow should be dead.
He was in a coma for nine long months after he received a severe brain injury in a brutal attack by two men on March 31, 2011.
As he lay in the parking lot at Dodger Stadium, the then-42-year-old was kicked repeatedly in the head and chest. All because he was there to cheer on the San Francisco Giants.
“Those people tried to kill me,” Stow said. “They were adult bullies.”
Five years later, he shares his story with students across the state with the message to put an end to bullying and fan violence.
Along with this mother, Ann Stow, and his speech language pathologist, Brandy Dickinson, Stow made two one-hour presentations on Friday to middle school and freshman students at Weston Ranch High School in southeast Stockton.
Wearing a black Giants jersey of former pitcher Jeremy Affaldt, Stow walked across the stage with crutches to the tune of “Eye of the Tiger,” showcasing how far he has come in his rehabilitation. Not long ago he could neither walk nor speak. He's had to relearn both.
He told his story through the use of a slideshow, of how a young man, a brave paramedic who loves heavy-metal and skydived over Southern California, had to fight for his life.
Stow doesn’t remember the night of the attack, when he and two friends were waiting for a cab after the baseball game. Nor the next three years that followed, Ann Stow said.
“What he tells you is basically the memory we created for him,” she said.
His bullies took plea deals and were each sentenced to prison in 2014, Louie Sanchez to eight years and Marvin Norwood for four years.
But Stow had to relearn every basic function: from breathing and eating, to writing and, eventually, walking. Almost all the images in the slideshow showed him proudly wearing his Giants gear.
His medication requires him to take 24 ½ pills every day. If he forgets one, Ann Stow said he might very well start having seizures. He wakes up every day at 4 a.m. because he suffers from two forms of sleep apnea.
His mother and father continue to be Stow’s main caregivers at their home in Capitola. He spends five hours a day in physical therapy and has other caregivers seven days a week to help with dressing, showers and bathroom functions.
His range of motion in his elbows, knees and shoulders is forever limited.
But it’s seeing the kids and spreading the message of tolerance and respect for each other that makes Stow feel good, even though he had to be talked into the idea of speaking to children at first.
“I love kids. It makes me feel good when I see kids out there that could be screw-ups at their school, and they’re paying attention to what I have to say. That means a lot to me,” said Stow, himself the father of two teens.
“I absolutely love talking to kids.”
He started the Bryan Stow Foundation last year and already has delivered 41 anti-bullying assemblies at schools from Chico to San Diego. He has also spoken at juvenile halls, continuation schools and other organizations.
Ann Stow said she has been contacted by many schools afterward that have seen positive changes in their students after her son’s visit.
“Every school that we’ve gone to, they followed through with the kids,” she said. “It’s not just Bryan goes and does his presentation and that’s it; they actually follow through with (his message).”
Stow has become so popular that he has assemblies booked well into next spring. In two months, he will deliver talks to schools in Hawaii.
“Let’s put an end to fan violence,” he said. “You should be able to cheer for your favorite team (and) leave it on the field. No one needs to get hurt.”
The mission of the foundation is to share Stow’s story and guide kids to stop bullying in both physical and online forms. Friday’s presentation also included statistics on teen suicide, the third leading cause of death among young people.
Near the end of his presentation, Stow asked the students to stand together and join in taking his anti-bullying pledge:
“I will treat others with kindness, compassion and respect.
“I will not be a bystander to bullying.
“I will stand up and speak up when I witness bullying.
“Bullying hurts lives, and I’m a lifesaver.”
Afterward, freshmen Eli Ortega and Carlos Perez stayed behind to get a picture with their hero.
“He was good,” 14-year-old Ortega said. Perez agreed.
“Especially since I’m a huge Giants fan, too,” he said.
His message also is meant to empower students to stand up to bullies and make good choices.
“When Bryan woke up from his coma, he chose life. He made the decision to fill his heart with compassion and motivation and self-discipline,” Dickinson said. “It took a lot of work to do what he has done to get where he is today. It’s all about the choices, all about the decisions we make every single day.
“These bullies may have beat Bryan Stow up, but they ain’t beat this man down,” she said to thunderous cheers and applause.
— Contact reporter Nicholas Filipas at (209) 546-8257 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on recordnet.com/filipasblog or on Twitter @nicholasfilipas.