Q: How would you describe your life prior to December 30, 2005?
A: Before my accident, I was your typical 19-year-old college sophomore—pretty much had no clue who I was or what I truly wanted to do with my life. I was always active though. Played basketball and ran track and cross country in high school.
Q: Can you let our readers know what occurred that day that dramatically changed your life?
A: December 30, 2005, would be the last day of my life as an able-bodied man. I woke up in my bed that morning in Charleston and drove up to Columbia to move furniture into my new apartment with my three best friends from college. That night, after watching my Gamecocks lose to Missouri in the Independence Bowl, I decided to drive back to Charleston so I could celebrate my younger brother’s 18th birthday. I was about 30 minutes outside of Charleston, when I fell asleep at the wheel for three to five seconds and crashed my car. I woke up in the intensive care unit of MUSC eight days later from a drug-induced coma with a spinal cord injury, paralyzed from the belly button down for the rest of my life.
Q: Most people could not imagine what goes through someone’s thought process and emotional being after such a devastating diagnosis. Can you give us some insight on how the accident affected you beyond the obvious of being told that you will never walk again?
A: Every day for the past 12 years, I’ve woken up with two things to go up against: my spinal cord injury, and society’s perception of what it means to be “disabled.” There’s obvious physical challenges to being wheelchair bound, but there’s definitely a stigma attached to being wheelchair bound, too, that surfaces when you interact with other people, like in job interviews, dating, et cetera. In a way, my injury forces me to play from behind, but what that’s ultimately taught me to do are three things: to think outside the box, to be resilient, and to find the silver lining in all bad things. With those three things, I’ve been able to accomplish any goal that I set my mind to. I GOT LEGS! Do You?
Q: What life changes did you consciously make in helping deal with your new, unplanned way of life?
A: I think the biggest life change that I had to consciously make was not being afraid to ask people for help, which has led me to be a much better communicator and team builder. For example, if I can’t climb a staircase to a restaurant, I have to communicate my needs and to empower others to help get me up those stairs. After consciously doing that for 12 years, you start to apply that same concept to other areas of your life.
Q: Was there a turning point occurrence that happened after your accident to not only cope but also thrive in your life?
A: There’s been a few turning points in my life post-accident, but the biggest one took place on April 2, 2016, when I became the first paralyzed man in history to walk in the Cooper River Bridge Run wearing a ReWalk Robotic Exoskeleton. The 6.2-mile race took me almost seven hours and exactly 17,932 steps to complete. It was a huge turning point for me because I felt as though I had reclaimed the lower half of my body. It was also the day that my organization, I Got Legs, was born.
Q: Tell us more about I Got Legs.
A: When I am in my ReWalk Robotic Exoskeleton, I do not feel disabled, nor do I feel able-bodied; I feel ReEnabled. I’ve taken that ReEnabled feeling and mindset and turned it into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that I am the founder/CEO of called I Got Legs. Our mission is to ReEnabled members of the disabled community by driving mobility technology forward and building active communities. We look to raise awareness and funds to create programs that allow others, like myself, to be able to fundraise for their own legs and to create opportunities that ultimately bridge the gap between the able-bodied and physically challenged.
Q: What are your goals for the future of I Got Legs?
A: One of our goals is to get health insurance providers to cover the cost of these exoskeletons and other walking brace technologies, so the first step in doing that is to both create a program that will enable more people within the disabled community to not only start training on their exoskeletons, and other walking brace technologies (aka LEGS), and make it easier for those people in training to fundraise for their new LEGS. That program is our base program and is called the Charleston ReEnabled Racing Circuit, which we are currently working with local race directors, and technology partners on. My goal is to set up a ReEnabled Racing Circuit in every city that has an exoskeleton training center in it. Then from there, we can leverage the output of the program in other key areas of need for the disabled community.
Q: Please let us know what people, organizations and businesses can do to help you on your incredible journey.
A: You can help by buying an I Got Legs T-shirt or donating by visiting our website (www.igotlegs.org). You can also follow us and share our posts on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter (@IGOTLEGS.)