Star baton twirler at WMU turns tragedy into triumph

Star baton twirler at WMU turns tragedy into triumph

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - Tonight we want to introduce you to a rising star--now a freshman at Western Michigan University.

Bre Bolinger survived a horrifying explosion. But instead of hiding behind her scars, she's gone on to become a world-famous baton twirler.

It's only fitting that in this season of "defying the odds" at Western, that we meet someone like Bolinger. As the football team's on the field winning games, she's the girl on the sidelines winning hearts.

In the world of baton twirling, Bolinger is about as elite as they come. A national champion, who's competed on the world stage for Team USA and is now a featured twirler for an undefeated college football team.

And she says she probably would have never found her life's passion, if it weren't for her brush with death.

"100% certainty, if I hadn't had my accident I wouldn't be sitting here," she said.

Bre grew up on a dairy farm in Indiana. One hot summer day when she was three, one of their oil drums exploded about 15 feet from where she was sitting.

"Being three, I didn't know what to do, so I was stuck right inside the fire," she said. "My dad got blown away from the fire because of the explosion, so he realized i was stuck inside of it, so he went back into the fire to get me out, and then he rolled me on the ground put the flames out."

She suffered third degree burns to 60-percent of her body, lost her right ear, and underwent multiple surgeries and skin grafts.

"My mom was told by my doctor when he realized I was going to survive to put me in some sort of activity to keep me agile," she said. "I started twirling as a rehab technique to help loosen the skin."

Rehab gave way to private lessons, which led to one competition and then two and, well, the rest is history.

"There's not many in the country who are going to be above Bre," said Kyle Keiser, Bre's college coach.

Keiser has been working with Bre since she was nine.

"The challenges with Bre were looking at her fingers and the agility and the dexterity how are we going to create articulation in her hand to create the fine motor movements that it takes to manipulate a baton," she said.

Keiser is now Bre's college coach.

Call it a "twist" of fate--the very injuries that led Bre to this sport, you no longer notice once she picks up the baton, proving trick after trick, trophy after trophy.

"She wasn't that burn survivor, she was a twirler," Keiser said. "One of the top six in the country."

And so, with a smile that outshines her sequins, Bre is flipping the script.

If life hands her flames, she'll twirl them.

"It's honestly one of the best things i do as a burn survivor," she said. "Owning fire, I think, is very cool."

And she wants people to know she wouldn't change her story. She just wants to tell it.

"There's definitely a plan in place and you just got to trust in that," she said.

Bre is actually a pre-nursing major at Western.

Her goal is to be in an intensive care unit someday, working with burn patients.

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