He heads for a campground or sets off cross-country, by himself or with his girlfriend (now fiancée) of 10 years. He doesn’t have a TV and isn’t particularly attached to material possessions. In fact, some might call him a bit of a hippie. But underneath his laid-back demeanor is a spirit that won’t lie down.
On an autumn evening when Walter was 14, he awoke and thought he was in a morgue. When he tried to scream he couldn’t—there was a ventilator in his throat. It was a terrifying nightmare. And when his doctors pulled him from the MRI machine and explained he was in a hospital, it didn’t get much better. They told Walter he’d been in an automobile accident on the highway. His father was driving. Another car hit them, they lost control and hit a telephone pole. And Walter was paralyzed from the chest-down. Walter’s father was also injured in the accident. Within a few months of his paralysis, Walter had lost his father.
It’s not an uplifting story... Yet.
Walter was in the hospital for over six months. When he was finally discharged, he had missed his entire freshman year of high school. He spent that summer at SHAKE-A-LEG, a residential summer program for people with spinal cord injuries. There, Walter was able to discuss his injury with peers who understood the life-changing experience of a spinal cord injury. He was encouraged to ask questions about his body, his relationships, his future. The 14-year-old slowly began to come to terms with what had happened and started reintegrating himself back into the community. He gained so much from the SHAKE-A-LEG experience, he decided to give the organization something back: for the last few summers, Walter worked at the camp as a counselor.
He’s drawn to helping others, especially young adults who have acquired spinal cord injury. “I went through a lot of hard times and I’m hoping my experience can help others navigate a little better,” he explains. “I'd like to help them learn to live with their disability, and become as independent as possible." Walter acknowledges that "learning to accept an acquired disability is a process.”
At 31, Walter has almost earned his master’s in rehabilitation counseling. With just a few classes left, his future is within reach. He is currently a social worker, with plans to work with university students when he finishes his degree. He’s also beginning to plan his wedding—not to mention more camping trips. Because while Walter may appear to be laid back, he’s ambitious about his life. He has plans and goals in the works—and he credits the RT300 cycle for helping him stay physically prepared for them all.
After his injury, Walter used an FES cycle at an outpatient rehabilitation center, and he immediately felt the benefits. Thankfully, funding became available through insurance and Walter got a cycle for home use. Now Walter rides every other day for about an hour.
He’s come to crave the endorphin-filled rush of completing an aerobic workout which, until the cycle, was difficult to achieve. The workouts quiet his spasms for the entire day and increase his circulation. Most satisfying of all? “They make my legs feel like they have life in them again.”