Big Brother Brian Gong Sprints for Sister

brian gong

When he narrowed down his college choices to his final two, Brian Gong, CSOM ’19, was faced with a difficult decision. Confronted by a choice between the coasts, he could either remain in the Northeast—Boston College would be a reasonable drive from his hometown of East Williston on Long Island—or travel across the country to attend University of California, Berkeley.

When decision time rolled around, however, he knew his final selection of BC was the right one. Beyond the small class sizes and personable professors, Gong was committed to staying close to home to maintain a strong presence in his little sister’s life.

At 10 years old, when he and his family traveled to China to adopt his sister, Gong seamlessly embraced the role of the caring, protective big brother.

“When we went overseas to pick her up, [Brian] said, ‘I want to go,’” said Brian’s father David Gong. “I said, ‘Well, you’re going to miss school for about a week and a half.’ He’s like, ‘Doesn’t matter, I’ll make it up. I want to go and see my little sister.’”

Shortly after the family met their newest member, the first thing Brian did was take out some food that he had brought with him, open up the container, and start feeding her.

“He took to her right away, and said, ‘This is my little sister, and I’m going to make sure that she has a life that she deserves. I’m going to make sure she’s comfortable, and she’s protected, and she’s safe,’” David said.

Every night for the first two weeks following her adoption, Brian remembers how hard it was to put his sister down. Even when it came time for bed, she couldn’t fall asleep unless it was on Gong’s chest, or his dad’s. This fear of abandonment followed her into her childhood, when she would throw temper tantrums every morning as her mom got ready to leave for work.

“She just had that fear of letting go, or not having that person there,” said Gong.

Watching his sister tackle the emotional trauma as a newborn made an enormous impact on Gong.

“He was determined to make sure that he helped other people because of what she went through,” his father said.

Luckily for Gong, the perfect opportunity would present itself shortly after he made a new friend in Alexandra Intriago, MCAS ’19, during his time abroad while interning in Hong Kong.

On the weekends at the Sincere Financial Group in Sheung Wan, the BC students in the program would spend their time bonding on scenic hikes and over delectable dinners, with Gong always making sure to take full advantage of the short time they had to explore the country. With his contagious spirit of adventure, Gong would convince Intriago to join him for exploration and escapades.

“It was really evident that he wanted to lead this active lifestyle, but also always wanted to seize the day,” Intriago said.

A few months later, Intriago met Brittany Loring, CGSOM ’13, while at an exercise class in Chestnut Hill. Loring was traumatically wounded in the Boston Marathon bombings, and her highly publicized injury inspired hundreds of people to donate money to aid her recovery.

“When I was in the hospital I was receiving donations from all over the world—gifts and all of these things, and I at first was pretty uncomfortable with it, but as a student, my father suggested that I accept the donations, and pay it forward when I was ready to,” said Loring.

Since Loring’s insurance covered most of the expenses, she only ended up needing around $3,000 to cover her hospital bills, leaving her with a sizable surplus. Following the advice of her father, Loring used these funds to found a non-profit: the Brittany Fund for Trauma and Recovery.

The Brittany Fund’s mission is to help individuals who have survived traumatic events and are dealing with physical and emotional trauma. Specifically, the fund targets those who have received less media attention and therefore need extra financial support.

In the past, the organization has provided aid to survivors of a number of traumatic events—whether it be an individual who was paralyzed by a fallen tree, an innocent bystander who stumbled upon a robbery and was caught in the crossfire, or someone who was hit by a car while crossing the street.

Its collaborations with both the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital and the Boston Medical Center enable the Brittany Fund to help those in need of recovery pay for aid not covered by insurance—physical therapy, copayments, and even ramps or lifts for their homes to make it possible for individuals who have been paralyzed to enter them.

Intriago had recently run the Chicago Marathon for charity and is running this year’s Boston Marathon, so her interest was peaked when Loring spoke up in their workout class and said, “I have this charity that I started because I was in the Boston Marathon bombings and I was traumatized, and we’re still looking for runners.”

Since Intriago was already running the marathon for a different charity, she decided to send Loring’s information to Gong. “I didn’t even know that he was a big runner, but he was like, ‘Oh whatever, I’ll do it,’” said Intriago.

Shortly after, Gong got coffee with Loring, who decided that he would be a perfect fit for the organization’s Boston Marathon Team.

“My first impression of Brian was that he was a really gregarious, friendly individual who would well represent the Brittany Fund,” said Loring. “He shared a story about working with his little sister who had been through some emotional trauma, and I thought that he had some of the background to understand where the individuals he’s helping are coming from.”

Gong doesn’t consider himself a runner—in the past, the farthest he’d run was 3.1 miles during his annual participation in the Welles Remy Crowther Red Bandanna 5k, which he runs alongside his teammates on the BC fencing team. He’s always willing to do anything to help out a good cause, and this race is particularly meaningful to Gong, whose mother was in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. After a meeting in one of the Twin Towers, she’d left the building moments before the attack to return to a Bank of America downtown, where she worked.

So when it came time to begin training for the Boston Marathon in late Nov. 2017, Gong was slightly out of his element.

“I originally just googled, ‘How to train for a marathon,’” he said. “I had no idea what to do.”

Utilizing the advice of Intriago and Loring, Gong decided to establish a baseline, see how much he could run, and go from there. On his first training run he surprised himself by running 14 miles, a feat he had never previously achieved.

The marathon training program Gong began to follow started with a baseline of zero and then built up miles from there. Since Gong had established his personal baseline to be at 14 miles, he started training from that benchmark in the program.

During a typical school week, Gong makes sure to fit in a short run around 6 to 10 miles everyday, unless he’s cross-training to supplement his running. On the three nights that he had fencing practice, he would weight lift, usually squatting. On Thursdays, he went to a morning strength workout at 7 a.m. before fencing practice from 8 to 10 a.m.

This grueling program forced Gong to complete his long runs on weekends—usually Saturdays—to give him ample time to relax and recuperate. When fencing was in-season, the team would normally compete on the weekends, which presented Gong with many challenges as he sought to maintain a balanced schedule without neglecting his obligations.

“My competition, my performance during fencing, was definitely not there when I was training. We’d usually compete on weekends, so on that weekend I couldn’t get a training run in,” said Gong. “So then, my performance would either go up because I had a ton of stamina and I was ready to go, or I had decided to do the run the day before, so I was still recovering from that.”

As Gong nears race day, he shares the same concerns as many of his fellow runners—he’s constantly checking the weather and the tailwind—but these qualms pale in comparison to the triumph he’ll feel upon the race’s completion, knowing the impact it will have on the most important person in his life.

“Honestly, I pretty much hate running, it’s pretty much my pet peeve. Actually, finishing the marathon is not so much an athletic feat, it’s more like being a good role model for my sister. … Giving her something to live up to, something that she knows that she could be in the future, is definitely really important.”

Featured Image by Katie Genirs / Asst. Photo Editor