Adversity has no friends, and yet is a frequent visitor. What defines those who encounter adversity, is how they choose to handle it.
Brian Larson knows adversity well. Larson grew up in Seattle, spent 38 years as a Boeing employee, 36 as a competitive athlete, and the last six years enriching the Renton community as a volunteer. And he’s done it all from the confines of a wheelchair.
When Larson was 18-years-old, he was thrown from a motorcycle and
hit by a truck. The terrible accident left him fighting for his life and paralyzed from the waist down. At such a young age, no one would have begrudged him if he’d been angry.
No one that is, except Larson.
Larson is an optimist who made a decision instead to focus on the future.
Number one – get out of the hospital. Doctors said he’d be there for a year. He was released after only six months. Number two – if they say you can’t do it, do it anyway. Doctors said he’d never walk
with crutches, and yet he used crutches to climb seven flights of stairs before leaving the hospital.
“They told me all sorts of things I wouldn’t be able to do, and I proved them all wrong,” Larson said.
Shortly after leaving the hospital, Larson was asked to join a wheelchair basketball team, eventually becoming the manager of the Seattle Flyers. Years later, he helped start a wheelchair track and field club. Then, when he was laid off from Boeing, he took to the road with the club, competing around the country.
In 1972, he went back to work, and in the early 1980s added
wheelchair tennis to his list of credits. All in all, he’s spent some three decades volunteering to run sports programs for the disabled. He even helped one young boy, who much like him, struggled to deal with his new disability.
“I felt like so many people had helped me adjust to this new life in a wheelchair, I had to pass it on,” Larson says.
Larson had a second love in those days - classic cars. In 1987, he purchased a 1971 Jaguar XKE V12 and restored it. Then, he began entering it into Jaguar shows and worked up to Concourse level, earning a number of Northwest Champion titles.
“Concourse shows are judged based on how accurate the car is
based on how it would have come off the manufacturer’s assembly line.”
Eventually, Larson found his way to the Renton Farmer’s Market, where he started out volunteering to count the number of people who
came to the park.
“In the early days, Brian used to sit around and talk so much, we decided we had to find him a job,” jokes Jim Medzegian.
Today, Larson lines up all the entertainment for the market. And, with his vast collection of musical CDs and gregarious personality, he is the official DJ and “Voice of Renton.”
Eventually, however, Renton’s car show would beckon, enticing Larson to join the organizing committee.
Originally held at the High School Memorial Stadium, the Return
to Renton Car Show was moved to help showcase the downtown area. Now in its 21st year, the event will run on July 10, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Through a partnership with the Renton Police
Department, much of 3rd Avenue is blocked off to accommodate upwards to 400 cars, and 3,000 visitors and vendors.
“We have forty judges and about 75 volunteers who
set everything up and take everything down,” Larson said.
Both the City’s transportation and parks departments also play a strong role, putting up barriers and helping to clean up.
The event is free to the public, and although competitive, the Renton show is considered a “fun” show.
“We have all sorts of categories,” laughs Larson. “Best Chrome, Best Paint, even the Car I’d Sell My House For.”
Sponsors help offset expenses, and funds raised are donated to the Renton Police Youth Program.
“We’ve donated over $141,000 over the last twenty years,” he said.
Larson also serves on the Piazza Renton Board, helping out wherever he can. Why does he devote so much time to volunteering?
“I’ve been privileged in my life, especially since my accident,” he says. “I want to give back.”
The Reverend Robert Schuller once said, “Tough times never last, but tough people do.”
Brian Larson is tough, but he’s done much more than last – he’s thrived. And Renton is all the more fortunate because of it.