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With run across Kansas, he’ll raise awareness of brain injuries

Updated: 2013-09-04T01:01:57Z

By BETH LIPOFF

Special to The Star

Twenty-five years ago, a car hit Dustin Criscione as he rode his bicycle. He suffered a brain injury and was in a coma for days. Now, he’s running across the state of Kansas to raise awareness of the condition.

Criscione, 34, will run more than 400 miles across the state starting Sept. 21, stopping at rehab centers to visit with support groups and medical professionals all along the way. Eventually, he hopes to run across the country for the same cause.

Criscione will run 30 to 40 miles a day, five days a week, following U.S. 56 to Great Bend, then taking U.S. 50 to the Colorado state line. His mother, Becky Miller, will follow him in a van, providing water and other support.

The first day, he’ll run from Gary Gribble’s Running Sports at 8600 Ward Parkway to Gardner, starting at 8 a.m. — and he welcomes anyone who wants to run with him.

His inspiration is fellow runner Jordan Connell, who ran across the United States to raise awareness of youth homelessness. When Connell came through Kansas City, Criscione ran with him for about 35 miles.

“This run is about overcoming adversity,” Criscione said.

Criscione is partnering with the Brain Injury Association of Kansas and Greater Kansas City to connect with the various brain injury groups, and Gary Gribble’s Running Sports is helping sponsor him on his run.

When Criscione approached the association with the idea, “we were thinking, ‘Is this really going to happen? Can people really do this?’” said Kate Kershaw, the group’s development director.

The association is a non-profit based in Overland Park that provides educational resources about brain injuries and helps refer families dealing with the condition to nearby support groups. It also conducts programs aimed to lower the risk of brain injuries. Last year, it distributed free bicycle helmets to 1,700 kids in the metro area.

“We want to support Dustin, because he is doing something in terms of awareness. He’s getting out and talking with people,” Kershaw said. “He wants to do something with his brain injury and make it meaningful. Individuals with brain injuries can do incredible things.”

Criscione has already visited support groups under the auspices of the association. The main goal of his run is to raise awareness of brain injuries, but he’s also hoping to raise money for the association.

In the United States, 1.7 million people are affected by traumatic brain injuries each year, Kershaw said.

“It’s also known as the hidden disability,” she said. “You've got hundreds of thousands of people walking around with the disability but you can't really see. There are certain deficits they might be experiencing that don't really show.”

Criscione has had some academic difficulties as a result of his brain injury but hopes to graduate from Maple Woods Metropolitan Community College in the Northland soon and is also working toward getting certified as a personal trainer at Penn Valley Metropolitan Community College.

Running isn't a new hobby for Criscione. He's been with the KC Northland Runners since 2007, and he credits running with helping him conquer some issues with depression, related to problems he's had since his brain injury.

“It helped turn my life around,” Criscione said. “(This run) gives meaning to all I've been through — it's not all for nothing. It makes me feel better when I know I can help people.”

Although he’s recovering from a stress fracture in his leg, Criscione’s regular training workout still involves 20-mile runs, alternated with eight-mile runs throughout the week.

Kershaw said many brain injury sufferers have been in accidents while playing sports or serving in the military. They experience behavior changes, anger management and sleep problems and memory issues.

“They're really struggling silently,” she said.

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