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Unbreakable

COM freshman refuses to let brittle bone disease keep him from his passion

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Connor Lenahan is obsessed with sports. After only six months on campus, he is the game announcer for women’s basketball, men’s lacrosse, and swimming. When he’s not behind a mic, he can be found in the stands any time another BU team is playing. In his free time he blogs on a wide range of subjects, from Derek Jeter’s retirement to NFL prospect Michael Sam’s recent announcement that he is gay. And he’s an avid follower of ESPN and the sports and pop culture blog Grantland.

So it begs the question: why does Lenahan (COM’17) stick to the sidelines instead of joining a team? The reason? He has a incurable congenital bone disease that causes weak bones, and weak bones can break easily. Those born with osteogenesis imperfecta (OI) have defective connective tissue or lack the ability to make enough of it. Also known as brittle bone disease, it afflicts between 20,000 and 50,000 people in this country every year. Lenahan spends most of his time in a wheelchair as a precaution against falling and injury.

Even though he has the least severe form of OI, the BU freshman could already count 10 broken bones by the time he was 18—each of his tibias and fibulas twice, his left femur, his right femur three times, his right elbow, and his L5 vertebra. All it took for a snap was a fall or an accidental bump from a passerby.

In January, his wheelchair got stuck on a snowbank in Kenmore Square. It took five Good Samaritans to stop traffic and push it out of the sludge and ice. Unable to move much during the ordeal for fear of injury, Lenahan’s hands got frostbitten. That incident is just one of the brutally honest experiences he shares on his blog—fittingly named Unbreakable—which reveals what it’s like to live with the condition. One blog entry:

“I walk alongside walls to prevent falling. I waddle to not slip. I take precautions to protect myself at every turn. I’m horrified of what would happen to me if I didn’t. I’m lucky to have only broken my legs (and an arm) a few times. I could have severely fractured my spine or, God forbid, my head. I have to find ways of appearing bulletproof. If other people believe that I’m indestructible, then I’ll start to buy into it too….I walk (or roll) around with a confidence that I can do whatever the hell I want to if I put my mind to it.”

It is that confidence and perseverance that makes Lenahan such an inspiration, friends say. “Connor has a persona about him. The minute he walks into our practices or games, we go right over to give him a high five,” says Clodagh Scannell (CGS’14), a guard on the women’s basketball team, who grew up in Ireland. “I don’t think I’ve started a game this year without speaking to Connor first. He is a sweetheart, and one of the most amazing people I’ve met since I moved to America freshman year.”

Connor Lenahan, Maurice Watson Jr., Justin Alston, Boston University, BU Terriers men's basketball

Lenahan with BU basketball team members and friends Maurice Watson Jr. (CGS’14) (left) and Justin Alston (CGS’14), a Terrier forward. Photo courtesy of Connor Lenahan

Despite his illness, Lenahan—who has strawberry blond hair and wears thick tortoiseshell glasses—is a typical college student. He lucked out on a single in Warren Towers and relies on a wheelchair to get to class and the gym. An animated talker, he spits out sports stats and makes friends easily. He eats in the dining hall, explores Boston, and has been known to stay out until 3 a.m. on a school night to see the Arctic Monkeys.

Growing up in Waverly, Pa., Lenahan wondered if he’d ever be able to live independently. A weeklong journalism camp junior year of high school made him realize that he could. When it came time to apply to college, he looked for schools that were not only handicapped-accessible, but also offered a big sports program. He set his sights on Syracuse and Penn State. His mother suggested he check out BU.

“At first I said, ‘No, I’m a Yankees fan. I can’t live in Boston,’ but I dropped the stubborn act once I realized it could be a cool place for me,” Lenahan says. “Within 20 minutes of visiting I knew this was the place for me. I applied early decision and got in.”

Nine days before high school graduation, he tripped and broke his tibia and fibula for the second time. He spent the next 74 days in a cast, but refused to let the setback slow him down when he arrived at BU last fall. Early on, he met with Disability Services and introduced himself to staff at the Dean of Students office. During Orientation, he bonded with Kenneth Elmore (SED’87), the dean of students, over a love of the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week.

Shortly after arriving at BU, the never-shy Lenahan was heading back from the dining hall one night when he passed Maurice Watson Jr. (CGS’14), a guard on the men’s basketball team, and introduced himself. He’d been in the stands two years back when Watson’s team played Lenahan’s high school, and he remembered the game, and the guard. The Pennsylvania natives exchanged numbers and started eating lunch together. Watson invited him to stop by practice, and once there, Lenahan never left. Every afternoon, he sits off to the side during practice, working the buzzer or shouting words of encouragement.

Connor Lenahan, Unbreakable blog, BU Terriers announcer, BU Athletics, Boston University College of Communication, COM, sports journalism major, disabled students, campus accessibility

On women’s basketball game nights, Lenahan can be found in Case Gym announcing the  game. Photo by Cydney Scott

Lenahan’s announcing career started during his high school sophomore year, when he told a senior, “I want your job.” He mastered the skill quickly. At BU, he soon started filling in at women’s basketball games and swim meets. He did such a good job that he was offered the full-time announcer position for women’s basketball, lacrosse, and swimming. His “dream job” is to become the announcer for men’s basketball.

Dan Mercurio (COM’10), director of marketing and strategic planning for athletics, says Lenahan has definitely taken on more than the average student employee. “He’s done a fantastic job so far and gets better with every game,” Mercurio says. “We look forward to having him for three more years.”

Meanwhile, Lenahan’s health has shown signs of improvement. For the past eight years, he’s been undergoing drug treatments to try to make his body build up more bone density. He combines the drug regimen with physical therapy and light exercise at FitRec, like swimming.

Two weeks ago, he got some good news. The results from a test he took over winter break indicate that his bone density is higher than ever. “It will always be lower than what the median bone density is for the average person, but it’s not by much anymore,” he says. “The more and more they do this, the more that my osteogenesis imperfecta becomes a nonfactor. I don’t want to break anything ever again, but being a realist, if it happens, the quicker I’ll recover, the faster I’ll get back up, and the more I’ll be able to say, I’m unbreakable. This won’t be able to beat me.”

17 Comments
Amy Laskowski

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

17 Comments on Unbreakable

  • Hanna Peterson on 03.03.2014 at 7:39 am

    I’ve seen Connor around campus and he is always unstoppable with a bright smile and a hello– something not offered by many. He’s an inspiration. Keep it up, Connor!

  • Lu on 03.03.2014 at 8:36 am

    Connor,

    It was really nice having you in my class last semester. Your story is inspiring. I am sure you will be successful in your future no matter what you decide to do because you have such a great spirt.

    Lu

  • Mark on 03.03.2014 at 10:10 am

    What a great guy. BU is lucky to have him.

  • Stacey on 03.03.2014 at 11:40 am

    What an excellent story and gutsy young man! Thanks for providing some strong inspiration to start the week – keep up the great work.

  • Sarah G. on 03.03.2014 at 1:35 pm

    You’re an amazing person, Connor. I can only dream to have the same indomitable spirit as you. I hope I’ll get to meet you around campus.

  • Kenneth Drucker on 03.03.2014 at 5:39 pm

    This guy is my kind of dude. No quit in him !! What an inspiration to us all!! We need more men like this dude! I had the pleasure of meeting Connor at where else? A hoop game at BU. You rock dude!! Best Ken (Keith Drucker’ Dad)

  • Jonathan on 03.03.2014 at 7:11 pm

    I admire his passion. Come on Connor !

  • Thomas Joseph on 03.03.2014 at 11:33 pm

    I am a member of the extended family. My nephew is associated with BU Athletics and I’m also very proud of him. Connor is an inspiration to everyone especially those who couldn’t participate in contact sports in life but want to be apart of the experience. My nephew Dylan has given this to me much like Connor is doing for so many others. Well done Connor!

  • BU student on 03.04.2014 at 12:09 pm

    Conner, you are so very inspiring! I see you down the streets every so often. You always had a smile on your face, always so happy. I’ve always wanted to say hi and talk to you. Keep up the good work, and one day I know you’ll be the announcer for the BU men’s basketball :)

  • R.J. Page on 03.04.2014 at 11:29 pm

    Keep up the great work Connor. Huge impact and very inspirational.

  • Professor Veronica F. Ellis on 04.01.2014 at 8:13 am

    Indeed–an unbreakable spirit you have, Richard (name by which you’re known to me), despite physical setbacks. What a pleasure to teach you; you radiate a warmth that permeates my CO 201 class. I’m blessed to know you.

  • Nduka O. Azubuike on 04.01.2014 at 11:26 am

    This is a great story. Kinda like the movies. I like how he inspires the sports guys and I like how the sports guy embrace him as their own. It’s win-win. Also, I think the Connor on this video is healthier than most people I’ve met. It’s all about spirit really. Thanks BU Today.

  • Liz on 04.01.2014 at 2:09 pm

    Reading this makes me so happy! He’s a really great guy.

  • Rebecca on 04.01.2014 at 3:56 pm

    What a great story! So inspiring. Thanks for sharing your story Connor.

  • chen on 04.02.2014 at 5:04 pm

    had intro to american politics last semester with Connor. amazing amazing person. always has a huge smile on his face.

  • Glenda on 04.05.2014 at 9:00 am

    So glad you’re getting treatment – I assume it’s bisphosphonates? My daughter is 18 with OI type 1 also, and had 8 weekly IV Pamidronate treatments from aged 14 – 17. It not only did great things for her bone density, it also significantly reduced her pain levels.

    Keep up as much physical activity as you can for good bone development. Your bone structure can’t be helped, but increased density and activity will give you the best shot for a happy, productive life.

    Sending happy thoughts your way from Canberra, capital city of Australia!

  • Lauren Etter on 04.06.2014 at 5:24 pm

    What an inspiration to us all. Thank you Connor for being someone who makes us all want do more, explore our passions and better ourselves.

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