The family of a Kentucky college athlete has shared video of his desperate attempts to find water just an hour before he collapsed and suffered a deadly heatstroke.
The University of the Cumberlands reached a $14m settlement last week with the family of 20-year-old Grant Brace, who died on 31 August 2020 during a wrestling training session in the school’s Louisville campus.
Speaking with ABC’s Good Morning America in their first media interview, Brace’s parents broke down in tears as they recounted seeing video of their son trying to find water after two coaches allegedly denied it to him during the gruelling training.
“Ultimately, it killed him,” Jackie Brace said in the segment aired on Sunday. “... [i]t’s so painful to think that he was alone.”
The surveillance footage shows Brace fruitlessly attempting to open a locked door in the wrestling team building. He was found unconscious near a non-functioning water fountain around 45 minutes later.
“He was on all fours and he had dug his hand in the dirt,” Brace’s dad Kyle Brace also said. “He had fistfuls of dirt.”
An autopsy determined that Brace’s death from an “exertional heatstroke” was preventable.
The Braces claimed in their lawsuit that the coaches forced the team to sprint multiple times up and down a steep hill dubbed “punishment hill” in 84-degree weather.
The then-coach threatened to kick Brace off the wrestling team, so he ran up the hill again and was later heard saying, “I’m done. I can’t do this anymore,” the lawsuit said.
— Good Morning America (@GMA) March 20, 2023
He begged for water but the coaches allegedly didn’t provide water or contact the trainer or emergency medical personnel, according to the lawsuit.
A member of the wrestling team also told Good Morning America that coaches often conducted harsh drills and did not allow athletes to refill their water jugs.
“[It was] horrible, absolutely horrible,” Alex Myers said. “Nobody really had any water at all left in their water bottles and we were not allowed to go back into the [locker] room until the end of punishment.”
Brace was diagnosed with narcolepsy and ADHD and was prescribed Adderall which requires maintaining hydration, according to the Associated Press.
The University of the Cumberlands said in a statement that the safety of students and athletes is a top priority and it “welcomes the opportunity to work with the Brace family’s consultant to ensure it is providing the safest environment possible for student-athletes in all sports.”
“The University made the decision to settle the case now in a manner it hopes will respect the Brace family’s tremendous loss,” the statement said.
As part of the settlement, the university will also be required to implement a heat-illness training programme. An active criminal investigation is underway.
The Braces said in a statement that they refused attempts to keep details of the settlement confidential.
“There are still many unanswered questions, but for the first time, we as a family are finally able to begin to share a glimpse into our tragic story,” it read.
“By doing so we aim to bring awareness to the dangers of heat illness in athletics. With appropriate education, it should never take another precious life.”