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Going the Distance

Going the Distance
PHOTOGRAPHER: 
Adam Gorlitsky hopes to become the first paralyzed man to walk the Cooper River Bridge Run on April 2; but that’s just his first step.

 

Three to five seconds—that’s the amount of time it takes to tie a shoe, dial a number, or read this sentence. But for Adam Gorlitsky, three to five seconds is all it took to change his life forever. On December 30, 2005, a then-19-year-old Gorlitsky was driving from Columbia to Charleston when he dozed off briefly behind the wheel and crashed. His doctors soon informed him that, due to a severed spinal cord, he’d never walk again. Ten years later, Gorlitsky is relearning how to do just that with a ReWalk robotic exoskeleton—and empowering others through his “I Got Legs” campaign.

CM: How’d you learn of the exoskeleton? 

AG: During a check-up at the Center for Spinal Cord Injury at Roper Hospital, they asked me if I wanted to try it out. A month later, I stood up for the first time. 

CM: How’d it feel to take your first steps?

AG: Really amazing. You know, I’ve been denied jobs because there was no ramp. I’ve had women break up with me because I can’t stand or walk. I didn’t know it until I stood up in the exoskeleton, but I had been just as insecure about not standing or walking as they had been. Suddenly, I was no longer trapped. I was taking control of my injury.

CM: Why is your goal to walk the 2016 Cooper River Bridge Run?

AG: As soon as I stood up that first time, I just said ”Bridge Run.” I can’t think of a better way to reclaim my body than with the biggest race in Charleston.

CM: You trained with Roper Hospital’s exoskeleton before recently buying your own—tell us about that.

AG: In the fall, I launched a GoFundMe campaign and started selling ”I Got Legs” T-shirts to raise money to buy my exoskeleton, which costs $80,000. By December, I’d raised enough for the down payment, and ReWalk presented it to me on the 10th anniversary of my car accident. I have until the end of April to pay off the balance. If, through this Bridge Run goal, I could also raise enough money to buy an exoskeleton for at least one other person who is paralyzed, that would be amazing.

CM: And now you’re creating a nonprofit called ”I Got Legs”?

AG: Yes. Originally, that phrase was literal for me. I was trying to tell those girls who broke up with me, “Hey, I got legs.” Then “legs” started to take on a meaning of empowerment. I want to create a foundation that provides a safe environment—through fundraising events, social media, and educational and social programs—that empowers and connects people of all abilities.

Take a peek into Gorlitsky's journey via his fundraising video:

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