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From burn victim to pro triathlete

Legacy Emanuel Medical Center | Burn Care

Lying in a hospital bed in remote Thailand with burn injuries on his leg so severe that doctors told him he may never walk, Colin O’Brady had a novel idea: “I am going to complete a triathlon.”

A mere 18 months later, he did –– completing and winning the Chicago Triathlon, the country’s largest. That performance prompted him to become a professional. Now he is representing the U.S. in international competition.

And while his goal is to make the Olympic Games, he has another purpose: to tell people that they can come back from serious burns and severe injuries even better than before. “Whether it is burn injury or traumatic injury, physical or emotional , you can achieve whatever you set your mind to,” Colin says. "When people face life’s setbacks, get up and start fighting.”

Colin credits the treatment at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center’s Oregon Burn Center for much of his ability to recover. “The doctors and the staff made a huge difference in my recovery,” he says. “Their expertise allowed me to be where I am today.”

An Oregon state champion swimmer in high school, Colin graduated Yale University and set about to see the world –– “with a surfboard, backpack and a few pennies.” He ended up in a tiny Thai island participating in a local beach custom of jump roping on a flaming rope.

The rope wrapped around his legs and he caught fire. With flames reaching his neck, he jumped into the nearby ocean. “I was lucky –– doctors later said in another five seconds I would have been burned all the way,” Colin says. “That being said, getting burned on 25 percent of your body and jumping into a salty ocean is not something I would recommend to anybody.”

There was no hospital on the island; treatment on a nearby island wasn’t much better. His mother arrived from Portland and helped connect him to the Legacy Oregon Burn Center. After telling his mother of the plan to complete a triathlon –– despite the fact that his legs were the size of his wrists at the time –– Colin eventually came to Legacy Emanuel for treatment.

Today, you can barely see the scars. “I earn my living running around in spandex,” Colin says with a smile, “And the scars are not the first thing you see. For that, and many other things, I am thankful to Legacy Emanuel and all the folks there.”