Couple spotlights brain injury on 1,500-mile trip

Published 8:52 pm Friday, September 23, 2016

Twelve days, four states, one woman rollerblading nearly 1,500 miles from New Smyrna Beach, Florida, to Boston, Massachusetts — all part of The BIG Skate and raising awareness for traumatic brain injury.

Nate and Meredith McDonald stopped in Washington overnight Friday, after a morning spent rollerblading up U.S. Highway 17 for Meredith McDonald, with Nate McDonald trailing in the SUV behind her. The vehicle is noticeable, not only for its flashing lights, but for the words written large on the side of the SUV: BIG Life, Brain Injury Group.

According to the McDonalds, many lives are touched by traumatic brain injury. They’ve learned this along the way north, as many people have approached them, first curious about what they’re doing, then sharing their own stories, Nate McDonald said.

“The conversations are amazing,” he said. “Along this trip, we stop and converse with people, and they end up telling us their ties to brain injury — a cousin, brother, a friend.

It’s unreal the response we’re getting.”

Shedding light on traumatic brain injury is a mission for the couple, one born of personal experience. Seven years ago, Nate McDonald was in a near-fatal motorcycle accident. He spent three months in the hospital; three times, his wife was given the opportunity to take her husband off life support. She chose not to, and against the odds, he recovered from a traumatic brain injury. It would take two years of therapy after his hospital stay, but after that, he was cut loose, without a support or treatment program. He had to learn to cope with a very changed life on his own, Nate McDonald said.

“Once you leave the hospital and your therapy, there’s nothing for you,” McDonald said. “There’s nothing but a support group once a month. Those are really necessary, but it’s not enough. That’s where BIG Life comes in.”

The McDonalds started the BIG Life Foundation last September. They’re currently holding support group meetings, beach clean-up days, ice cream socials for survivors of traumatic brain injury.

“We’re focusing on the positive things going on and enjoying life as a group,” Nate McDonald said.

The ultimate goal is to turn 3 acres of land they’ve acquired into a therapeutic retreat for survivors of traumatic brain injury — which manifests itself in many ways, mentally and physically.

“Every brain injury is different,” McDonald said.

He views his injury as a second chance at life; his recovery, he credits to God. Meredith McDonald, already a rollerblading aficionado, said she’s rollerblading up the East Coast because this is what she can do to help their cause — get the attention of the general public.

“She decided she wanted to skate to Boston just to raise awareness,” Nate McDonald said.

The couple set out early Saturday morning from Washington; they plan to arrive in Boston on Oct. 14. Their trip will end at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the hospital to which Nate McDonald was airlifted the day of his accident.

For more information about BIG Life Foundation and The BIG Skate, visit