On July 13, Sydney Angelo dove off a raft on the Allegheny River without realizing that the water was just three feet deep. She hit her head on the bottom of the river, and when she left the water again, it was because a friend had pulled her out. Angelo was unable to move, almost completely paralyzed due to a spinal cord injury.
Angelo, who joined the Army Reserves five years ago, had always lived an active lifestyle, and after the accident, she was confined to a life of being fed, clothed, and bathed by someone else. But although doctors gave her only a 1-5 percent chance of ever walking or feeling again, she’s been making remarkable progress through sheer determination and what some might describe as an ongoing miracle — she recently walked up and down an entire flight of stairs with assistance.
Although Angelo has remained unbelievably strong throughout her recovery (and recently showed her spunk by getting the words “Jump don’t dive” tattooed on one middle finger and a spinal cord on the other middle finger), the costs of her recovery — which include hospital and therapy bills, plus all the adaptive resources such as ramps that are required to make her world more accessible — have skyrocketed. So her cousin, BJJ blue belt Kirk Bradley, decided to try to help.
Bradley, who’s been training in jiu-jitsu and striking for years, has teamed up with coaches and other members of The Academy near Pittsburgh, PA, to organize a charity open house to help raise money for Angelo’s family. However, the open house has another purpose: to introduce members of the public to the world of martial arts. The event will feature introduction classes to BJJ, Muay Thai, boxing, and MMA by some of the area’s top coaches. Academy member and light heavyweight UFC fighter Adam Milstead will also be there for photographs and autographs, and Pittsburgh Steeler Ryan Shazier has autographed merchandise specifically for the cause.
While Angelo herself hasn’t joined the martial arts world yet, her closeness to Bradley has made this a deeply personal cause for his BJJ and MMA family. “Syd is my hero! She has taught me so much about the difference positive attitude and determination can make in a terrible situation, when even brilliant medical professionals say the odds are not good. She continues to amaze me every day,” he says. “The outpouring of support from folks that never met Syd is truly inspiring! I knew my gym family at the Academy would go out of their way to help and I can’t wait to see what this special event becomes.”
If you’re in the Pittsburgh area, you can attend this event in person on November 10 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at The Academy for a suggested $20 donation. If you’re unable to attend, but would like to contribute to the cause, you can donate to the GoFundMe set up for Angelo and her family.