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Part 2: Survivor Winner's Journey In CA
CEDAR RAPIDS, IA/TEMECULA, CA (CBS2/FOX28) - When Cedar Rapids, Iowa Survivor winner, DeniseStapley, first met Brandon Federowicz from Buffalo, New York on her Facebook fan page she had no idea he was using social media to learn how to communicate better as a person with Autism. She also didn't know, that their online interaction would lead to friendship and together they'd end up being teammates in an event called Reality Rally. It's an event that, for them, was about everything other than the competition.
Brandon signed up to run in his dad, John's, honor. John passed away last October after a five and a half month battle with leukemia. He came to race with Denise, his reality star hero and friend.
"It gives the platform to really try and make a difference," Denise said about participating in the rally.
Denise and Brandon were joined on their team by Brandon's cousin, Lisa Howell, and his mother, Charlene Federowicz.
"He was a really good guy, he was funny and he loved his family very much," Lisa said amid tears as she described her Uncle John and prepared to race for him.
"And if he was alive today, he would have been here with us!" Charlene added about her husband.
While Autism makes it hard sometimes for Brandon to communicate, the rally helped serve as his platform for him to honor and love his father.
"Yes, I am happy for the race," Bradon said.
Gillian Larson, a former Survivor contestant, is the creator of the race. Gillian tried for eight years to get on Survivor, when she did, she was voted off week two. That gave her plenty of time to think about what Survivor was supposed to mean to her. In the end, she organized the race. It raises money for Michelle's Place, a breast cancer charity in Temecula, California. Reality stars and fans are paired up to participate in the "Amazing Race Style Race" that takes place throughout the streets of Old Town Temecula. All who participate, are required to make a donation. For Denise, being at the race with Brandon and his family, was humbling.
"There is always that motivation, you know, that's the reason that I got the honor of participating, you know, it's unfortunately because his dad died," Denise said.
Gillian added that she found Denise and Brandon's story inspiring. She saw their participation in the rally as the perfect way to move forward after a tragic event.
"It is not what happens to you in life, it's how you deal with it that determines the path of the rest of your life," She said.
Reality Rally involves 11 challenges in Old Town Temecula. The entire event can last up to four hours! It includes everything from tasks involving basic math, to mechanical bull riding to acting and walking on a hanging bridge.
"He did it all. He did it all! It was like watching him jump hurdle after hurdle after hurdle. He just excelled," Charlene said of Brandon with pride.
Then, in the final challenge, Brandon had to climb a rock wall blindfolded with Denise as his guide. While the challenge took Brandon quite some time, he kept going, working his way toward a bell at the top.
"We don't give up, Federowicz's don't give up!" Charlene said.
"Watching him get to the top of the wall was the best thing!" Lisa added.
It was a moment that captured the attention of onlookers. Denise and Brandon's team would be the very last to finish.
"We had gathered an audience; I don't know who everyone else was that was standing to watch us get him to the top, and everybody cheered. That's just awesome!" Denise said.
"This is a message to everybody out there, that even if you're a little different from the ordinary, that you're still an amazing human person, being with love and a heart. So we should reach out to everybody," Gillian added.
It was a rally that brought hearts together and helped Brandon's family, with the assistance of Denise, find joy in celebrating John's life.
"Even though we came in last, because save the best for last, spirits are still up, because of the reason why we're here," Charlene said after crossing the finish line.
"I think he was so proud of me!" Brandon said of his dad.
"He might have chuckled a few times, but I believe he was proud!" Charlene said.
In the final part of our three part series airing on Thursday night, Sadie Hughes shares the purpose behind the rally and how it further unites Denise and Brandon. That's Thursday night on FOX28/CBS2.
To watch part 1: Click below -
To watch part 3: Click below