The Boot holds benefit for Tulane alumnus paralyzed in mountain bike accident

Paige Pielet, Staff Reporter

The Boot Bar and Grill hosted a benefit on Sunday, Nov. 8, for Tulane alumnus (‘07) and former Boot staff member, Brian McKenna, who was left paralyzed from the neck down after a mountain biking accident.

McKenna was biking in Utah in June when he snagged a branch and was thrown from his bike, breaking his neck on impact. Since then, his condition has improved. He is currently working on getting off his ventilator and can shrug his shoulders.

Guests at the event could make a $100 donation and enjoy a catered brunch, an open bar, bottomless bloody marys and mimosas, and a complimentary event T-shirt. A $20 donation gave guests access to bottomless bloody marys and mimosas. Additionally, there were 25 silent auction items, including tickets to sporting events and concerts and a signed Drew Brees football.

Everything from the event was donated, including the bartenders’ tips. The benefit was a collaborative effort involving the Boot staff and some friends of McKenna’s residing in New Orleans, with the support of the Boot owners, the Napoli family.

“That has just been really heartwarming to me, just to see not only the Tulane community, but the New Orleans community, coming and supporting someone who doesn’t even live here anymore, that this tragic situation happened,” Annie Day, marketing director and special events coordinator at The Boot, said.

McKenna was a finance major in the A.B. Freeman School of Business, a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and played intramural sports along with working at The Boot.

When Jackson Smith (‘07), a fraternity brother and fellow Boot employee, was in Afghanistan serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, McKenna didn’t want him to miss out on Mardi Gras celebrations, so he carried around a cardboard cutout of him throughout the festivities. He sent an album to Smith and the last picture was with Drew Brees, who just won the Super Bowl and was MVP and King of Bacchus that year.

“I later found out that it took Brian McKenna over four hours to talk his way through the maze of security that surrounds the King of Bacchus, augmented that year by a phalanx of NFL personnel, none of whom was willing to entertain the possibility of their Super Bowl MVP posing for a single picture,” Smith said in his article in The Washington Post on Sept. 10.

After the mountain biking accident five years later, Smith, who lives in New Orleans and goes to Tulane University Law School, got a cutout of McKenna and brought it to Yulman Stadium, where the Saints were holding their last open practice.

“Standing at the edge of the bleachers that night among a crowd of autograph-seekers all screaming for Drew’s attention, I knew my chances were not good,” Smith said. But he got Brees’ attention and was able to snap a photo of him with the cutout of McKenna.

Since then, Smith and McKenna have appeared on “Ellen” twice, and Drew Brees, Ellen and Shutterfly bought McKenna a new high-tech wheelchair, and McKenna went off his ventilator on live television. Ellen has invited them to see her show and Brees invited them to see a game, VIP, to which Smith responded, “Well Drew, on the day that Brian can be there with me, I promise I’m there.”

Smith described the impact the fundraising event made on him.

“I can’t tell you how much it means to me, and to Brian and his family … It’s good to know the Boot family is as strong as ever,” he said about the benefit.

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