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Stow tells students about dangers of bullying

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Bryan Stow, flanked by his cousin Rebecca Bucher, speaks to students at Hillsdale High School about the dangers of bullying and violence on Thursday. (Brendan Bartholomew/Special to S.F. Examiner)
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Bryan Stow, the San Francisco Giants fan left with brain damage and disability after being brutally beaten at Dodger Stadium in 2011, visited Hillsdale High School in San Mateo on Thursday to enroll students in his campaign against bullying and fan violence.

Staff and students in the packed school theater applauded as 47-year-old Stow, using two crutches, walked slowly to the stage. His cousin, Hillsdale High School Counselor Rebecca Bucher, shadowed him during his walk, ready to assist if he needed it. Both wore Giants jackets.

Stow was joined onstage by Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose Speech and Language Pathologist Brandy Dickinson.

“She helps me focus and find the words,” Stow explained.

Stow began his talk by describing his life before his injuries: an ambulance driver and father of two, who enjoyed skydiving. Giving a brief description of his attack on March 31, 2011, Stow connected the violent crime to the topic of bullying.

“I was hurt by adult bullies,” he said.

After spending nine months in a coma, Stow said he had to relearn everything, from reading a book to swallowing his food.

To illustrate how far Stow has come in his recovery, Dickinson played a video in which a family member tells Stow, “I love you,” and he is unable to repeat the sentence. Dickinson said even Stow’s walk to the stage inside the school theater represents a big improvement, because he completely relied on a wheelchair when she first met him.

“The wheelchair was my life.” Stow said. “When I woke up, I was placed in a wheelchair all day, then got put back in bed. Now, I’m on a cane.”

Displaying a photo of himself in his wheelchair in a van, Stow recalled, “I was placed in the back seat of my mom’s minivan like groceries.”

Stow then switched to a more recent photo of him riding in the front seat of his mother’s van. He ultimately hopes to drive again.

“So, watch out,” Stow quipped, eliciting a laugh from his audience.

Stow explained he receives caregiver aid seven days a week and will need help for the rest of his life. But he added his notoriety has afforded him some great experiences, such as throwing out the first pitch at a San Jose Giants game.

“Does anybody know what that’s like?” Stow asked. “It feels really cool!”

Stow said he enjoys attending concerts by ’80s metal bands and has enjoyed meeting band members.

When Stow asked if anybody knew who Tesla was, he was met with confused silence from the teen audience. But when he mentioned the band Queensrÿche, an adult staffer said, “Yeah!” provoking some good-natured laughter.

Bringing the conversation back to bullying, Stow and Dickinson talked about how some bullies thrive on having an audience. But that same group dynamic can be turned around and used to interrupt bullying behaviors, Dickinson noted.

“Stand up to the bully, interrupt the action,” Stow said. “Tell them you don’t think this is cool. There is power in numbers.”

After the talk, student Katiola Finau, 15, said she believed her schoolmates would heed Stow’s call to action.

“I think it will have a strong impact, because you hear about bullying, but to see the results, it makes you really want to make a change,” Finau said.

Dickinson, who now spends her time volunteering to help Stow, noted his insurance coverage for outpatient therapy is capped. But Stow’s campaign to stop bullying and fan violence somewhat fills that need.

“This is his therapy now,” Dickinson said.

For more information about Stow’s anti-bullying efforts, visit www.bryanstowfoundation.org.

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