Valley graduate applies lessons from wrestling after life-altering accident
Brian Jacob embraced the philosophy of wrestling in his life, something that became crucial when he suffered an injury that ended his career and confined him to a wheelchair.
The former Valley star broke his neck and suffered spinal-cord damage in an accident while wrestling after his sophomore year at Pitt. But even after the injury rendered him a quadriplegic, Jacob became the leader of WESTARM Physical Therapy and helped the company grow and expand into the largest rehabilitation outpatient service in the Alle-Kiski Valley.
Jacob is part of the Alle-Kiski Valley Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019, which will be inducted May 18 at the Quality Inn in New Kensington.
“The thing I tell people is I was injured wrestling, but what I learned through wrestling, some of the discipline in life and determination, all came back to help me in my life after my accident,” said Jacob, 60. “I apply those same principles to my life every day in what I do, in my work and in my lifestyle.”
While he starred on the mat for Valley his junior and senior seasons, going a combined 45-3 with a Westmoreland County championship, two WPIAL tournament appearances and a state tournament appearance, Jacob believes his induction comes down to what he has accomplished later in life.
Jacob took over WESTARM, the company founded by his father Abraham, in 1991. Today it provides physical and occupational rehabilitation services at nine outpatient facilities.
Another branch of the company, WESTARM Homecare, was created in 2010 to allow therapists to continue their work in homes.
“I’m most proud of having had the opportunity to own this business, and I’ve developed it over the last 27 years, to see it grow and accomplish the reputation we have in this area,” said Jacob, the president and owner. “I live very vicariously through my clinicians and my therapists that work for WESTARM.
“I always feel great about hearing responses from our patients, like, ‘You guys did a great job with me,’ and people will actually thank me for work my therapists do. It makes me feel good because I realize our company is doing something very valuable for people in need of rehab. I feel very proud of that. I appreciate those comments.”
Jacob wrestled at the 112-pound level in high school. He won a county title as a junior and went into the WPIAL tournament undefeated. He lost in the second round, his season ending because there were no wrestlebacks. He placed third in the WPIAL as a senior and lost in the state tournament to the eventual runner-up. Again, there were no consolation rounds.
He wrestled two years at Pitt before his injury.
“He was a scrapper,” said Jeffrey Jacob, Brian’s older brother. “He was dedicated. He was the first guy in practice.”
Those traits continue to carry Brian Jacob, even after his wrestling accident at the New Kensington YMCA. Rather than wallow in the injury, Jacob said his wrestling background helped him move on.
“I always learned through wrestling and setting goals and trying to accomplish those, and once accomplishing them, I’d move on to setting new goals and try to accomplish those,” Jacob said. “I use those same principles in my life after my accident.
“At first, it was quite difficult. I’d be remiss in saying it was easy to get through that. But with time, with the support of very supportive parents and family, I was able to get past the fact I was quadriplegic and start moving on and realizing I had this life. I kind of use the analogy that when you’re playing cards and playing poker, you get dealt a hand of cards and have a couple choices: One is to fold and the other is to play on, which I chose to do.”
Despite not having the use of his legs and limited use of his hands, Jacob earned a bachelor’s degree at Pitt, followed by a Master’s degree in healthcare administration. He received a Distinguished Graduate Award from Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health for the contributions he made in the healthcare industry.
He met his wife, Jamie, while completing his one-year residency at Harmarville’s rehabilitation center. The couple has been married for more than 30 years, with two adult children: Brady and Maria.
“I think that I was just lucky,” Jacob said. “I was blessed and lucky to be there at the right time.”