By now, you've likely heard of Adam Gorlitzky or, perhaps, you've seen his "I Got Legs" t-shirts around town.
If you haven't, you will during the 39th Annual Cooper River Bridge Run. That's when he'll be the first paraplegic to complete the iconic 10K race with the help of his ReWalk Exoskeleton. Adam suffered a spinal cord injury following a car accident in 2005, but that hasn't slowed the Wando High School graduate down nor does it to define him. Crossing the finish line after 6.2 miles without a wheelchair is one example of how he continues to live on his terms.
Charleston's own Stephen Colbert has a t-shirt supporting Adam. Photo courtesy of Adam Gortlitzky.
What is the ReWalk Exoskeleton?
In a nutshell, the ReWalk Exoskeleton, is the robotic set of legs that will help make crossing the bridge on two feet possible. But don't place your bets solely on the technology, itself, as Adam will tell you resilience and strength, both mental and physical, are needed to operate the contraption. Connected through a mutual friend, I had the pleasure of speaking to him recently about his historic endeavor, as well as the last fundraiser taking place before it all goes down April 2nd. In his words, he talks about his journey.
On finding the technology
"I'm a member of the spinal cord injury center at Roper Hospital. It's a joint venture between Roper Hospital and MUSC. I go for a check-up once a year and last July they said, 'Hey, we'd like to fit you for this Exoskeleton. We think you'd be a great candidate.' You have to have good bone density, strength; there are certain criteria. So they sized me up and a few weeks later -- mid-August, I think -- I posted my first video of me standing up."
Standing and walking are now possible for Adam. Photo courtesy of Adam Gorlitzky.
Getting his legs
"In August, I took my first steps, and I wanted to do the bridge run from the second I stood up. By mid-October, I launched my Go Fund Me campaign to get my own, and that's also right around the same time I started selling t-shirts, as well. From October to December, I was able to raise enough money to afford the down payment. It's crazy. I didn't plan this. It sounds like an amazing Hollywood screenwriter would have planned it this way. But on the 10th anniversary of my car accident, December 30, 2015, the manufacturer came down and presented me with my Exoskeleton. A lot of people think I own it outright, but I'm making payments. I think for some insurance might cover it. Mine didn't."
Advocacy and awareness
"What I want to do is push the envelope and raise awareness. I believe there are only 27 rehab hospitals in the country that even offer this technology to spinal cord injury patients. My first goal is talking to the manufacturer and getting this into as many rehab hospitals as possible. And making it lightweight, less expensive, and more accessible. In Charleston, there are a lot of spinal cord injury patients. I've met some amazing people that I would never have had the opportunity to meet."
Adam can often be found at Second Sunday on King selling his shirts. Photo courtesy of Adam Gorlitzky.
His athletic past and how he's prepping for the Bridge Run
"I'm a competitive guy. I ran track and cross-country in high school, and played basketball, but I can only go so fast in this machine. Julian Smith, the Cooper River Bridge Run Executive Director, has been amazing. I'll be the first runner/walker to start. They're allowing me to finish. I think it will take about 4.5 to 5 hours."
"I tell people with the Exoskeleton there are two parts to training: me putting in the actual steps, and wearing it in public walking and talking. That's the hardest part. I still can't feel the ground, so it's a little weird. Because of that, I don't know my legs and space. I have to take into account the variables on the ground. The slightest little variation in terrain and I have to shift my weight. People think I'm being rude when I'm wearing it. I'm not. I'm just concentrating."
The last fundraiser before the race
"The last fundraiser will be Friday night at Mynt, 7 pm — 11 pm. $50 for all you can eat and drink. We'll have top shelf liquor, food, and entertainment. The performers are Danny May and Chase Morgan. Danny is a young Billy Joel type of entertainer. He plays the piano. And Chase is 17; she's a country singer. I look forward to everybody hearing her. Tickets are still available and all proceeds go to the Exoskeleton."
To purchase tickets and to learn more about the fundraiser, including a silent auction and scheduled giveaways, visit the event page. For more on Adam's story, check out this video.
A signed inaugural bridge run t-shirt will be auctioned Friday night at Mynt. Photo courtesy of Adam Gorlitzky.