© Submitted photo
Brandon Mullins shoots a game of pool at Union Street Bar & Billiards during the regional event for the provincial Jack and Jill 8-Ball Championships in St. John's.
Brandon Mullins grew up dreaming of visting Las Vegas because it was a place that always intrigued him.
Active in competitive sports and an outdoor enthusiast all his life, Mullins began shooting pool three years ago. He stuck with the game because he had friends who had played in major pool tournaments in Las Vegas through the Canadian Pool Association (CPA).
Mullins is now a member of that association, so he thought perhaps the day would come that he would represent his province at Nationals in the place he only dreamed of growing up.
But Mullins, 23, has been going through a tough personal battle lately — he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in January. He has gone from a vibrant young man who always had a big smile on his face to depending on a wheelchair, and was no longer physically capable of holding down his job as a bartender at AJ’s Bar and Billiards on Broadway.
But he’s not letting MS keep him from playing pool.
Mullins and Shelagh Stevenson teamed up for the provincial Jack and Jill 8 Ball Tournament in St. John’s last week to pursue his dream of going to Las Vegas.
What unfolded there gave him a new lease on life.
Mullins and Stevenson weren’t expected to give any of the east coast Jack and Jill entries a run for their money, but the Corner Brook duo had an incredible run before falling hill-hill (4-3) to Keith Butler and Tanya Tuck of St. John’s.
Mullins had a chance to end the final game by potting the eight ball, but missed the shot. Tuck would pot the eight ball to claim the title and a trip to Las Vegas for her and Butler.
“The amount of pressure, I can’t describe it. This is what everyone plays for and it came down to this one last game of pool,” Mullins said. “I’ve never been at that stage before with so many people watching.”
After losing in the final, Mullins admits he was pretty shaken because he realized he was also playing for his partner. He was dejected that he couldn’t sink the eight ball when his partner had left him in great position.
Afterwards, there was the usual handshake and well wishes among the players.
Mullins eventually struck up a conversation with fellow pool player Colin Gray who he knows after playing against him at a previous tournament. Gray was inspired by the fact Mullins was dealing with a major challenge in his life, but seemed determined to drag himself up out of his wheelchair when it was his turn to shoot.
Gray made Mullins an offer: to purchase him a plane ticket so he could go to Las Vegas in August to watch some pool.
Mullins says he cried when Gray made him the offer, and even declined a couple of times before Gray insisted it was no big deal.
Mullins was happy enough at that point, but was further overwhelmed when Butler decided to offer up his spot to play in the tournament to allow Mullins a chance to play with Tuck in Vegas.
“For me, it’s more important to see someone like (Mullins), who is an inspiration to people I’m sure, to get a chance to go down and fulfull his dream,” Butler said from St. John’s earlier this week.
“I mean, (the Multiple Sclerosis is) progressing so fast ... God knows when he’s going to get a chance again.”
Butler has been to Vegas on several occasions, but saw a chance to make a difference for someone he admires because of Mullins’ positive energy.
“He’s a fantastic fella and for everything going on ... it blows me away that he can be so positive,” said Butler, who added CPA league operator Brian Flood is going to take care of Mullins’ hotel bill in Las Vegas.
Mullins said he was speechless with all the offers, but learned a valuable lesson that day.
“These people don’t know me and they’re doing this for me,” he said.
“I didn’t understand it at first, but then it clicked maybe that there really are good people out there.”
It hasn’t been an easy journey for a guy who was always active and liked to work, but he has learned to deal with things with the loving support of his family and friends.
Mullins used to play pool once a week for fun, but has now embraced the game even more.
“Since my diagnosis it’s one of the only things I enjoy doing that I can still do so I play four nights a week and it helps me keep my mind off things,” he said.
“I haven’t been without anything since. Any time I ever needed anything my friends have been there for me.”