Day 1 At Project Walk

We’re on a ten lane freeway in California. The sun is shining through the window, hot on my face, Simone is driving and I am buzzing.

I just spent two and a half hours at Project Walk (www.projectwalk.org)  trying to move sleeping muscles that have been under the grip of paralysis for months now. We’re not messing around with my upper body – it works after all – we’re just focusing on my paralysed legs, hips and gluts. Today I was lying on my back trying to cycle my legs in the air with the assistance of a trainer, doing assisted squats on a machine, cycling on a standard spin bike, with assistance, using my abs, hips and momentum to keep it going and standing on a vibrating plate with the help of parallel bars and a trainer.

Conventional wisdom suggests that I will not walk again. The script seems to read that I’ve been saved from death, stabilised in hospital and now I will remain in a wheelchair. But I’m not ready to let conventional wisdom determine my future.

Nobody can honestly predict what will happen, but I’m pretty sure that if I spend the rest of my life sitting in a wheelchair there will be little to no chance of me springing up one day and walking. I’ve got to get on my feet, which started in Dublin with my physiotherapist Amanda, and start trying to use the paralysed muscles that have been wasting away for so many months now.

At Project Walk I’m not constrained by conventional wisdom. Nor am I banking on any miracles here.  The philosophy is simply to get out of the wheelchair, to work the nerves and muscles below the level of my injury and see what happens. It seems to make sense in principle doesn’t it?.

When I used to row I completed hundreds of thousands of repetitions of the rowing movement in boats, on machines and in the gym. When running with back packs in the Gobi desert we built up tens of thousands of steps with progressively heavier back packs. And when preparing for the South Pole we recreated the cross country skiing motion, day after day for months, dragging car tires on the beach, with weights and pulleys in the gym and on snow in Norway. I was never going to compete in rowing, desert running or polar expeditions by sitting on my ass or lying on my back. And my gut feeling is that I’m never going to stand or walk, even a few faltering steps, if I stay in bed or sit in a wheelchair for the rest of my life.

Who knows what will happen and maybe I will never walk a step ever again. But I think it’s worth exploring the boundaries. Let me know what you think – Worth trying? Or a waste of time?

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38 Responses to “Day 1 At Project Walk”


  1. 1 Jenni Reilly March 2, 2011 at 5:38 am

    Absolutely worth trying. From what I’ve read and know of you Mark you’ve never given up, why would this be any different?
    You’re sounding positive yet realistic at the same time. You have cheated death and you must still live your life to the full – which I know you’ll do while setting yourself new challenges along the way.
    Good luck Mark.
    Work hard while you’re there. Keep blogging & tweeting. I’m rooting for you.
    Love & prayers.
    Jenni Reilly – Holywood, Co.Down.
    x

  2. 2 Jason Bryan March 2, 2011 at 5:47 am

    A single conversation across the table with a wise man is better than ten years mere study of books…

    You don’t know me Mark, I’m a friend of a friend, whom had the pleasure of hearing you speak in Kings Hospital School about 7/8 years ago and have followed your adventures ever since. Your tweets and blog since your accident always bring the above quote to mind. Keep up the hard work and keep on smiling. You’ve already proven ‘conventional wisdom’ wrong and I know you can continue to do so.
    Cheers,
    Jason.

    PS – Anyone who lives within their means just suffers from a lack of imagination!

  3. 3 Michael March 2, 2011 at 8:06 am

    Hi Mark. Just to briefly answer your question, I say most definitely YES to this! There will always be conventional wisdom to follow as it is usually the wisdom based on empirical statistical data. But on that flip side of that there are always anomalies. I dare say Shackleton would have made it back with all his men alive if he’d stopped and thought about the conventional wisdom of his chances for survival. He decided on his best chances and followed them. I also reckon that if this or any other sort of examination of your future mobility gives you such a positive feeling too then it is definitely worth doing. And besides, if this is giving your muscles some working out how can that be any way at all bad? Keep it up lad. And enjoy that american food too 🙂
    Love and hoorays from Singapore.
    Michael & Bambi.

  4. 4 Tony McManus March 2, 2011 at 9:07 am

    Welcome to sunny SoCal.

    There’s a saying at home “a dumb priest never got a parish”. I guess the same can be said for your journey, if you don’t ask the legs to do something chances are they won’t. It’s a BIG ask but definitely worth questioning and pushing boundaries. You know we’re shouting for you.

    Best,

    Tony

  5. 5 Michael Flahive March 2, 2011 at 9:38 am

    Go for it Mark! Someone as rare as you has no choice. Michael.

  6. 6 Lizmcgpr March 2, 2011 at 11:12 am

    Wouldn’t have expected anything from you than to challenge conventional thinking. Having already proven numerous times it can be broken!

    You and Simone are just great. We wish you huge luck on the next phase of the journey for you both.

    Martin, Dee and Molly. xx

  7. 7 Kate March 2, 2011 at 11:38 am

    Mark I think it sounds great, had a look at the website the concept looks spot on. Go for it!

  8. 8 Andrew Griffith March 2, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    Mark,

    Thank you for continuing to share your experiences.

    A family friend was involved in a car accident a few years ago. Their son was badly injured and wheelchair-bound as a result. They have visited countless experts in Europe and the US and have made huge progress.

    Last year, at his communion, Sean led the recession from the Church, not in a wheelchair, but on his feet with the help of sticks. He ended up covering double the distance he’d expected to (his parents were getting a bit anxious at that point) and realised a goal in the process.

    Bottom-line is he had a goal, worked extremely hard to get there and it paid off.

    Sean has new goals all the time. I’m delighted that you do too. Keep it up.

    Andrew

  9. 9 Sarah-Beth March 2, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    100% worth trying! Go, go, go. You are an inspiration to everyone Mark. Thinking of you from London. Sarah-Beth and boys xxx

  10. 10 Cathryn March 2, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    Mark this is wonderful. I was feeling pretty good today after a trip home to Belfast but reading your blog has elevated me further. Couldn’t agree more with your philosophy. Andre Agassi in his autobiography says he became a winner by hitting more tennis balls (thousands a day) and training more intensely than his opponents. Keep up the blogging – brilliant and really articulate.

  11. 11 Len Dunne March 2, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    Go for it Mark!!!!!!!

  12. 12 Sinead O'M March 2, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    Hi Mark – have read your blog while sitting with my two kids who are presently eating (and covered!) in lasagne – the youngest who is 16 mths started to feed himself using a spoon only a couple of weeks ago and oh my, what a journey so far!!! Yes, we do believe this part of your journey is worth it, for you and everything you are. Take care

  13. 13 Lisa March 2, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    I am just happy that you are surviving Simones driving 🙂
    But seriously, thrilled you are tackling this head on, and you can only get positive results from it, as the band Journey would say, ‘Don’t stop believin’

  14. 14 Dearbhaile Baldwin March 2, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    Best of Luck Mark
    Love hearing your updates , thinking positive can only help.

  15. 15 racowan March 2, 2011 at 8:27 pm

    Good luck Mark. Never give up, hope in our hearts is the thing that makes us human. I truly believe that you can do it.

  16. 16 kate marshall March 2, 2011 at 9:51 pm

    Hi Mark, Im smiling for the first time reading this blog. this is the old Mark and I am thankful and delighted that you are now where you are mentally and physically. Go for it – I believe!! looking forward to catching up someday soon. Kate x

  17. 17 Brian Gray March 2, 2011 at 10:52 pm

    Delighted to hear you are looking forwards again Mark. Having spent some time in the NRH in Dublin, recovering from Guillian Barre, not a spinal injury, I was amazed by the number of people who had clawed back use of their legs or had progressed their recovery beyond that which was considered possible by the conventional mind set. Who knows what the future holds for any of us, but strength and determination are important friends to guide you on that path.

    Best of luck with project walk. The NRH’s locomat did the trick for me, I’m now back running marathons, after being a quadriplegic, albeit from peripheral nerve syndrome.

    I look forward to following your progress and recovery. Rehab is a daily battle, but it can only be fought one day and one step at a time.

    Brian

    • 18 Chris Brindley March 6, 2011 at 11:23 am

      Mark

      If all the great explorers/inventors/winners had listened to ‘conventional wisdom’ then we would still be crawling in the swamps.

      Remember, that if you see a bandwagon you’re too late.

      As you have done all your life, ‘make it happen’ and lead the way for others to follow.

      Chris Brindley

  18. 19 Jessica March 3, 2011 at 2:26 am

    Mark I am soooo happy to see a post again I often check your blog to see how you are at LEAST three times a week!!!
    I’ve been worried and have kept u on my thoughts when I had noticed you hadn’t written in a while… Needless to say I’m delighted to see your coming along!
    Your prob sick of people constantly tellin you what an insperation you are…. Well tuff titties!!! Without your possitive out look you wouldn’t hve done half the things you have done… You’ve lived more than most people can ever dream of so bring back that stiff upper lip & know ur been thought of every day by a complete stranger that cares about u!
    I read this on my work calender & thought of u!!! It’s also the answer to ur question!

    “Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.”
    – Mahatma Gandhi

    lots of hugs x
    Jessy

  19. 20 Catherine March 3, 2011 at 9:37 am

    Mark
    I have heard you give motivation talks on numerous occasions and I find you utterly inspiring and ALWAYS think of you and use you as an example of ‘nothing can stop you reaching your dreams’!! I heard of your accident last year and followed your blog with tears falling down my face! Bizzarely yesterday you crossed my mind and I thought I must check his blog to c if there are any updates and there it was….written yesterday when I thought of you!!! I work with children with learning difficulties and I am a life coach and I FIRMLY believe and tell students and clients all the time that EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE AND ACHIEVEABLE IF YOU ARE WILLING TO PAY THE PRICE AND PUT IN THE TIME. You have to believe this can happen for you…truly believe it! Like you have with all ur other amazing achievements. Someone like you knows the power of the mind! Keep believing! I believe if you believe it will happen! Looking forward to reading about the journey, your positivity and your dreams and goals! With you all the way with supportive, positive and healing energy
    C

  20. 21 Gillian Lee March 3, 2011 at 9:49 am

    “Conventional wisdom” used to state that the earth was flat. What does “conventional wisdom” know?
    Go for it Mark! I’ll be thinking of you.
    Love,
    Gillian xx

  21. 22 william kells March 3, 2011 at 10:06 am

    H Mark
    Sorry I haven’t been able to communicate for a while. Circumstances have been changed for me too but not in the same category as you. That’s a conversation for another time.
    With all the things you have done in your life so far, you have never been one to shirk a challenge. So why would you even think of questioning it now. It is not in your psyche to believe that something is impossible or not worth trying. That word belief is something you have had embedded in you from as long as I have known you and most likely from birth. So much so,that you have done things that other people have never even thought of attempting because of your determination and belief. The situation you find yourself in for those that don’t know your history would seem another bridge too far but one which you are going to walk across for those of us that do know you and your ability to overcome any obstacle put in front of you. Yes it’s going to be tough. Let’s not soft soap it. We are not experiencing it personally so we have know idea what you are feeling. Painful too and mentally draining but those are only words that you have encountered before in other guises and you have cast them aside along the way to get to your goal. This is another journey , not one of your choosing, but one which you must now travel and call on all your reserves , strength and will to overcome it and once again prove the doubters wrong and how all the things you have talked about and wrote about over the years have basis for fact and are shown in you Mark Pollock ‘The Overcomer’a true athlete and achiever. Sorry this is a bit long for a blog but I wanted you to know that althogh I haven’t been in touch for a while you have been in my thoughts and prayers and I have always believed you are able to beat this.

  22. 23 Dermott March 3, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    Mark
    We were so delighted to hear you say you were ‘

  23. 24 Dermott March 3, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    Mark
    As per my last we were delighted to hear you say you were ‘buzzing’ and rightly so. Go for it, with you spirit and determination it IS definitely worth a go and all the effort. Thinking of you so much.
    Dermott

  24. 25 Dots March 3, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    We’re all fighting the conventional view on some front, we just need to be reminded that change takes a determined and sometimes unconventional view. Mark your a feckin’ inspiration hon x

  25. 26 Brian George March 3, 2011 at 8:50 pm

    Mark,
    Last Tuesday I was on my usual trek with my Rotary group, this time up the Dublin mountains. It was cold starting but then the sun came out and we had a clear blue sky, just like in San Diego. We stopped at the Hellfire Club, and as I gazed out at the wonderful view of Dublin below me and the mountains behind me, I thought of you, and wondered how your first day had gone. It was great to hear from Simone that evening that it went so well. Ireland is celebrating today, having beaten England in the Cricket World cup. If Ireland can achieve the near impossible, then surely you can do the same with your paralysis. Go for it,and give all of us a second reason for a great celebration.
    Best wishes, Brian

  26. 27 Craig & Bev Jackson March 3, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    So easy for us to say its worth trying and your not wasting your time, but we find it so inspirational that your not willing to give up! Go for it and good luck.

    Craig & Bev jackson.

  27. 28 Mike M March 4, 2011 at 9:03 am

    Theres no such thing as a waste of time!

  28. 29 Pam Baker March 4, 2011 at 10:39 am

    With you all the way. If anyone can do it, you can!

    And a little bird told me it’s your birthday, so Happy Birthday too!

    Pam Baker

  29. 30 Paula Lodge March 4, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    Dear Mark
    I have never met you,but like a lot of people I have checked in with your progress over the past few months. Everyone that writes to you expresses some of my own thoughts, but far more effectively than I could ever manage!
    However today I wish to send you this little message…
    Sometimes, some of us have to hit rock bottom before we can kick our way back to the top. At this moment we become an inspiration not just to others, but also to ourselves. I think you know that’s where you’re at… Keep kicking my dear friend, your new life has just begun!!
    Give the gorgeous Simone a big hug from me.
    Love
    Paula

  30. 31 Eithne March 6, 2011 at 11:36 pm

    Hi Mark,

    Just checking in on you as Feach people always asking how you are.

    I think its a great idea, get those muscles working, they have plenty of memory in there from your past exploits, when hard work was their way of life. Go for it.

    A group of us Feach families just got back from skiing, if you had told me 5 years ago I would see my kids ski down a mountain more competently than me, even though they can barley see I would not have believed you, but they did. The unbelieveable is possible as you well know.

    We’re all rooting for you,

    Eithne
    Feach

  31. 32 Caroline Devitt March 10, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    Definitely worth a try Mark. Good luck with it.

    Caroline & Johnny Devitt.

  32. 33 Klair March 16, 2011 at 10:50 am

    Go for it, it makes sense to me. I read about a guy who was paralysed after an accident and through sheer determination managed to walk down the aisle at his wedding with the help of crutches defying medical wisdom so these therapies can work, I guess it depends on the determination of the person and you definitely have the determination. It is so great to hear you are on the road to recovery again. I am rooting for you!! If anyone can do it, you can!!

  33. 34 Jason Reid March 30, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    Mark

    Is there even a question?!

    Good luck. Kia Kaha.

    Jason

  34. 35 Jonathan Sheehan April 27, 2011 at 10:56 pm

    Mark

    I haven’t been on your site for a few months and am so happy to see the progress you are making and am in awe of your drive, determination and self-belief. You truly are an inspiration. I wish you and your team every success and health and happiness.

    Jonathan

  35. 36 Jane Evans May 6, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    Hi There – what an inspiration!!! Did you use the Lokomat at the NRH and if so what did you think?

  36. 37 Laura hickey May 7, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    Mark
    my name is laura hickey from Ashbourne, Co Meath. I saw you on the Late Late last night and recognised you from before. I was absolutely shocked to hear you had been in an accident as I had no idea. It broke my heart before to hear you went blind in your 20s and SO different than being born blind I could not, and still can’t comprehend how you coped with it. And not only coped but achieved SO much with your expeditions. But to hear your Story of your accident made me shed tears. Did you not go through enough? Did that really have to happen? I just don’t understand how someone who has gone through so much hardness in life could possibly go through more. And now facing paralysis- I wonder is there a God out there. Yet you smiled the whole way through your conversation with Ryan. I could tell you were fighting tears though.
    I have shed many tears since being diagnosed with cancer a few months ago and like you, there was a stage where I wondered would I be here this time next year. But I feel that even the hardness and pain I’ve gone through, it doesn’t compare to the possibilty of paralysis. I do believe some day you WILL walk again. Others may not. But they are not you. You are one of a kind mark. A rare species. You are different than anyone else therefore I truly believe you have it in you to learn to walk again. Even if only baby steps at a time. It has happened before. And look what you can do When blind. That alone is incredible. No doubt you have a long and hard journey ahead of you. I am thinking of you and praying you will one day have that wedding day you were so close to having. And you will walk down that aisle.
    I just hope your luck picks up from here.
    It must be difficult financially to fund the project walk? Have you an account for people to pay into? I would like to give you a tiny little token towards something. If everyone did so then at least you will have some aid in that sense.
    Keep fighting mark and I hope to see you back on the Late Late , showing how you can walk again.
    Laura

    • 38 Elena September 5, 2012 at 10:38 pm

      Hi Laura, it’s Elena from Bilbao, I have been trying to contact you since I went back to Ireland but I couldn’t have any response and I’m just wondering how you feel, as I’m really shocked with the bad news I read in the post above. Hope you are recovering successfully and don’t hesitate to call me whenever you want. My and mum send you a big hugh. eletrasua@hotmail.com


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