Special Olympian Brady Tanner Inducted Into American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame, Honored at Haskell University

A story about Cherokee weightlifter Brady Tanner, the first Special Olympian inducted the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame.

Add a spot for Brady Tanner next to Billy Mills and Jim Thorpe at the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame in Kansas City, Missouri.

Tanner, Cherokee, is a world-class weightlifter from Lawrence, Kansas. He is the first Special Olympian to be inducted into the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame. On March 14 he was honored at a ceremony at Haskell Indian Nations University, prior to the official induction into the hall of fame yesterday, March 16.

Six tables full of hundreds of medals and trophies Tanner has won weightlifting were on display at the ceremony. Clearly, though, the star attraction was Tanner himself. 

But for all his achievements — including three gold medals from the 2011 World Special Olympic Games in Greece and numerous national titles — Tanner’s attitude was the attribute most mentioned by event speakers. “When the Creator gave him to the Tanners, he was a gift,” Haskell administrator Stephen Prue said to the crowd of Tanner’s family, friends, Haskell students, athletes and Lawrence law enforcement gathered, reports the Lawrence Journal-World. “Not only was he a gift to the community and the Haskell family, he was a gift to the world.”

Looking at Brady Tanner today it is hard to believe that the 250 lb., 5-foot-7 powerlifter was born just barely more than 4 pounds, according to a SpecialOlympics.org article. At age two, little Brady was not saying any words and was not walking. It turned out that the boy could not hear. To this day Brady sometimes has trouble communicating. Though tests showed some developmental delays it took several years to get a diagnosis – Brady has a rare condition known as Rubenstein-Taybi Syndrome.

Special Olympics

Determination. Dad Gary Tanner spots Brady. Gary has been there every step of the way, helping his son train.

At age four Brady was having a lot of trouble adjusting at school where teachers did not know how to work with a special needs child. His parents, tireless advocates on their son’s behalf, considered their options and made a tough choice. The Tanners uprooted their family and moved to a different state so that their son would have more opportunities to thrive. Parents and teachers teamed up to find ways for Brady to learn and things really turned around when Brady started participating in Special Olympics. 

Today Brady still has difficulty speaking, but it was hard to miss his sentiment as he thanked the crowd for all the help they have given him, notes the Lawrence Journal-World.

“Everyone here was so important to him,” his father, Gary Tanner, told the paper. “He feeds off of them. [The honor] is an accumulation for all of his efforts and everyone in his life who has supported him, even if it was a pat on the shoulder.”

“Brady never says, ‘I can’t do it,’” his mother said. “He never says no. He always continues to try to do his best, even if it’s hard. He always does it with a smile and is always willing to learn.”

This attitude carries over into other aspects of his life, from playing basketball and softball to his work as a dishwasher at Kansas University.

For the past 12 years, he has been lifting weights at the Haskell gym. Lately that means two-hour workouts, four times a week. Such workouts have yielded impressive results. His personal record for dead-lift is 575 pounds, while squat is 625 pounds and bench-press is 450 pounds.

“He’d come in and lift the craziest weight you’d ever seen, probably more than anyone that’s been in here,” said Cody Wilson, a former Haskell football player who lifted with and coached Tanner. “And all he’d want to know is if he did good. ‘Yeah Brady, you did amazing.’”

Brady said he appreciated being inducted into the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame.

“It feels good,” he said with a smile. “I am happy.”

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Watch a segment of a documentary on the Special Olympics featuring Tanner here: