Brady Monk has been through physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy and many other types of therapy since he suffered a traumatic brain injury at home in 2011.
But it is the therapy he has found on the pottery wheel and in the ceramics studio at CCRI’s Flanagan Campus in Lincoln that has allowed him to truly flourish.
“I just love how you can relate pottery to anything in life. The more we do it, the better we get at it, just like anything else in life,” he said. “You don’t start out being great at something. You have to work at it.”
Monk, who spends most of his days in the ceramics studio, didn’t know much about pottery when he arrived at CCRI in 2012. Before the injury he was an avid outdoorsman in his native Utah, where he skied competitively, played tennis, hiked and skateboarded.
The injury, and the subsequent induced coma and months of intensive rehabilitation, left him without feeling in the left side of his body. Monk’s mother was living in Rhode Island as a traveling physical therapist and suggested he consider moving to the East Coast.
He arrived and, itching to get back to school, enrolled at CCRI. On a whim he opted to take pottery, a bold choice given that he had no feeling and limited range of motion in his left hand. A lifelong lefty, he was still teaching himself to use his right hand.
The pottery course led him to Associate Professor Mark Zellers, whose constant support would change the trajectory of his life.
“I told Mark when I first got here that I didn’t think I could do some of the things he needed me to do,” Monk said. “He just told me, ‘Show me what you can do,’ and ever since then he’s been working with me and helping me.”
The beginning wasn’t pretty, Monk said. It was frustrating to mess up hundreds of pots, but the connection to pottery and its real-life applications continued to draw him in. His first two-handed success was a 9-inch clay cylinder, followed by cups, mugs, pots and, more recently, teapots.
Now, even without feeling in his left hand, he is crafting clay with two hands like any veteran potter does.
“Mark didn’t give up on me. That’s why I kept going. He was supportive through 100 percent of it,” he said. “His support has meant the world to me. He’ll be one of those professors I will remember when I’m 80 years old.”
Monk continues to refine his craft. In 2015, he was selected to present his honors project, which focused on the application of color theory to the use of ceramics, at the Northeast National Honors Conference in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. His work has been shown at other venues, including the CCRI Ceramics Invitational.
“Brady inspires students and faculty with his pursuit of excellence and his kind and generous spirit,” said Lisa Ethier, Monk’s honors project faculty adviser. “After facing adversity most people can only imagine, he has overcome obstacles and has found exciting new possibilities.”
He has demonstrated grit outside the studio, too. Doctors told Monk, who grew up on
the slopes, that he wouldn’t ski again for six years.
“I didn’t want to accept that,” he said.
He focused on his physical rehabilitation and was able to hit the slopes one year later.
“It was the most exhilarating feeling in my life. It wasn’t anything like what I was used to, but the bunny hill still felt pretty awesome,” he said.
Monk has been accepted to the nationally recognized ceramics program at the University of Montana in Missoula. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree, he plans to get a teaching certificate to teach art and ceramics to young people. He credits Zellers and Ethier for inspiring his passion for teaching.
“Just seeing my instructors’ passion and seeing them share that passion made me realize I want to be a teacher,” he said.
Monk will continue to use pottery – and the outdoors – as the most effective form of therapy.
“I just keep working on getting back to that normal state,” he said. “It might not be the same as what it used to be but holding on to that is what keeps me pushing forward.”