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Running for Brian

'Brian's 5K' draws more than 1,200 participants.

On a warm summer night last July, Brian Anderson dove off of a dock and into the shallow waters of Lake Gaston in North Carolina. The 23-year-old McLean High School graduate hit the floor of the lake with such impact that he shattered his C-6 vertebra — injuring his respiratory system and causing permanent nerve damage throughout his body. The accident left him paralyzed from the chest down and dependent on a respirator for breathing.

In October, after spending two months in intensive care at a hospital in Greenville, North Carolina, Brian Anderson was flown to Good Samaritan Hospital in Baltimore, Md. He is still there today, and recently began physical rehabilitation to regain the use of his arms, and to learn how to breathe on his own and speak again.

"He desperately wants rehabilitation and to get off his ventilator," said father Michael Anderson.

THE TRAGEDY that befell Brian Anderson has been devastating for him, his friends and his family. A well loved athlete, Brian Anderson was captain of the McLean High School football team, and prior to his accident, had been attending the Merchant Marine Academy. His older brother Mike Anderson graduated from McLean High School in 2000, and then attended West Point Academy. Up until two weeks ago, Mike Anderson had been serving in Iraq.

The cost of Brian Anderson's medical expenses strained the finances of his family. To make matters worse, he was recently dropped by his insurance company after his doctors at Good Samaritan Hospital gave him a poor prognosis. Parents Michael and Vicky Anderson hired an attorney to challenge the insurance company's decision, further adding to their financial burdens.

Saddened by the family's plight, several of Brian Anderson's friends decided to take some action. With the help of their mothers, McLean High School and numerous other McLean community members, the group organized "Brian's 5K," a fund-raising run/walk event that was held at McLean High School last Saturday morning, Dec. 2.

More than 600 people registered for the 5K run/walk in advance, with 396 participants showing up at the registration table on the morning of the event — resulting in a total of 1,218 participants.

"We were thrilled, and we were very grateful for the overwhelming support from both McLean High School and the McLean community," said Stephanie Russo, one of the event organizers. "Everybody just opened their hearts up, and it was so moving."

RESIDENTS from all over Fairfax County and beyond came to the event — some friends of Brian Anderson and his family, and some total strangers.

"I think it is really exciting to see the whole community come together for such a good cause," said Anne Baughman, a resident of Vienna who walked in the 5K. "When we started it really just brought tears to my eyes because it was just so emotional."

People were also thrilled that Brian's older brother Mike Anderson had just returned from Iraq and was present at the event. Accompanied by some of his West Point friends who had also served with him in Iraq, Mike Anderson gave a speech, and was also interviewed by NBC Channel 4.

"He's really a great guy," said Russo.

Falls Church resident Courtney Vander Veur did not know Brian Anderson, but is an avid runner and a regular race participant.

"A group of us from our church heard about it, and it seemed like a really good cause," said Vander Veur.

Similarly, Reston resident Georgina Needham also came because she is an active runner.

"But it's great that it's also for such a good cause because it makes you feel good about yourself too," said Needham.

AMONG THE MANY kind-hearted strangers were countless numbers of friends and family of the Anderson's. Arlington resident Katie Roman graduated from McLean High School with Mike Anderson in 2000, and participated in Brian's 5K. Roman said she was stunned by the number of people that showed up for the event.

"I think it's absolutely amazing," said Roman. "To me the amount of support is just unbelievable, and I think it's incredible the way they pulled this thing together."

Roman said she was also impressed by the wide age range of the crowd.

"It wasn't only his grade supporting him," said Roman. "There are people here who graduated in 1996."

Brian's 5K participant Andrea Barschdorf did graduate with Brian Anderson in 2002, and said that although she did not know him well, she remembered him as someone who had a great sense of humor and who always seemed to be having a good time. Barschdorf said that the 5K event was the first time that she had returned to McLean High School since graduation.

"It's a shame that our reason for being here is not because of a good thing, but I think it's great the way all these people came together and gave all of their support," said Barschdorf.

THE ORGANIZERS of Brian's 5K are still calculating the exact amount of registration fees and outside donations that were contributed as a result of the event. Donations are still being accepted at the www.brians5k.org Web site, and via mail. In addition, certain members of the McLean community are still working to collect funds for the family.

Steve Cooley, owner of Chesapeake Bagel in McLean, donated all of the proceeds from the sales he made on the day of Brian's 5K to the cause. Cooley also set up donation jars in his store and has already managed to collect $1,800 from those alone.

"He's a great guy and a real community pillar who believes heartily in the business community giving back," said Russo. "A lot of people say they're going to do something and don't but he backs up his words and does everything and more."