External Robotics & Internal Biology

I stood, I walked and I did it in a robotic exoskeleton. This is no miracle and it is not the end of the story. But it is the first iteration of a device that some day very soon might offer an alternative to a wheelchair. My experience is that Ekso can’t go up stairs and it isn’t for outside use yet. But it is close and it looks like there are enough people prepared to challenge conventional wisdom to make it happen.

Now, I’m in Carlsbad just north of San Diego. I’m back at project Walk (www.projectwalk.org), one year after my first visit, to continue my ongoing exercise based recovery experiment. In short, I am using patterns of exercise to try to stimulate my nervous system to open different pathways around my damaged spinal cord. The ultimate aim is that I will reconnect my brain and paralysed muscles. And, on first assessment I’m stronger than the last time I was here in Project Walk.  

There is no doubt that this has been an inspiring week for me and there is hope in the future that I might walk again. But life isn’t about the future. It is about experiencing life as it happens. As the days roll by in America and my mind races with what might be in the future, I’m in danger of missing the experience of life outside spinal cord injury. So, time to relax Californian style as the weekend hits.

If you’ve any thoughts about balancing acceptance of now whilst keeping hope alive for a better future please leave a comment!   

9 Responses to “External Robotics & Internal Biology”

  1. 1 Graham February 3, 2012 at 11:20 am

    i have a little thing i would like to share with you……well you know the way people say” the older you get the quicker time passes” , well if you ride your bicycle down hill the closer you get to the bottom (end) the faster it goes! correct??? i think in life as we are getting older we should all be trying to ride our bicycle uphill, this will slow the bicylce down, (physics) what im getting at is, we should always have a target, always have a goal, always have something to work and strive for, so it feels like you are cycling uphill regardless of how short the hill is for you. (you won’t feel like life has just zoomed past you).

    i hope my thought will inspire someone who feels like, wow that was a quick year!

  2. 2 Claire February 5, 2012 at 9:08 pm

    Hi Mark-
    So great to see you have been in robotic suit. I am learning to walk in the ReWalk in the UK at the mo. I am a T4 injury and spent a while at PW in Carlsbad after my injury. I am walking the London Marathon in the robtic suit for Spinal Research. (www.get-claire-walking.co.uk)
    Your story is unbelievable- you sound like a great guy and I am sure you will continue to improve and do well.
    I was paralysed nearly 5 yrs ago- I think getting that balance right between working to improve and keeping yourself fit/well plus enjoying other things in life is so important. Doctors were worried when i went to PW- but I have never put life on hold- met my now husband and had a baby last year. got on ski development squad (but the found I was pregnant!) … I have always believed I will walk again and still do (as a robot for a while- then who knows) but equally important to have other goals. Plain to see you are that type of person and will still do loads. I hope it is going well over there. I spent all of Jan 08 there- and enjoyed the sunny weather as well as being made to walk hard!
    I wish you loads of luck- and if you have any advice on Marathons / fundraising or anything i would love to hear….

    Many thanks

  3. 3 caroline rose February 6, 2012 at 10:42 pm

    Mark, you’re really living your life and inspiring us all to think big!! well done, I love reading about what you are doing.

  4. 4 Bambi February 7, 2012 at 2:24 pm

    Mark, these videos are amazing. So amazingly well done on breaking the 6 foot barrier!

    Balancing acceptance of now with hope for the future? Well maybe that is down to being mindful of the present and living it for the now, but aware that it will always impact the future. You can plant your garden now and focus on the enjoyment and purpose it gives you for the now, aware that you are hoping it will grow and feed you in the future. Now you are not sure if there will be a drought, excessive rain, or you fail your mortgage payments because of worldwide economic depression in gardens. All you can do is to do your part and your best for what you hope for a future garden, whilst enjoying the activity of planting,the smells and feel of the earth, the sun and wind massaging your baldy head and the now of it.

    Now I’d better go and practice what I preach.

  5. 5 SineadG February 7, 2012 at 10:15 pm

    I watched and found I was holding my breath! Incredible Mark… realising my words here – but the video was and you are. Your closing comments above “…balancing acceptance of now whilst keeping hope alive for a better future” – I went through a week & a half of “balancing acceptance now” last year and I think it’s the word acceptance that allowed me to move forward, to re-engage with what I have and see that there is always, always a better future. Take care to you & yours

  6. 6 John Daly February 8, 2012 at 12:03 am

    Your’e a truly remarkable person, Mark. An inspiration! I wish you all the very best as you accept the challenges life puts before you. I have no doubt you will continue to triumph!
    John Daly

  7. 7 Justin and Amy March 2, 2012 at 2:20 pm

    Thank you for coming to speak today at UCD! It was inspiring and truly a blessing. I look forward to following your blog and supporting your cause. I know you will be making more trips to Project Walk in California, let me know if you ever make it to my home state of North Carolina!

  8. 8 Rachael Gregson March 28, 2012 at 10:29 am

    Hi Mark, so good to read the excitement you are experiencing in San Diego! We are all with you every step of the way, willing your progress and sending love and Easter greetings from all the rowers at Methody and from your friends at Queen’s!
    Balancing acceptance of now whilst keeping hope alive for the future – hmm, no pearls of wisdom. You have set your long-term goal and are now living in the moment with every fibre of your being. You are an inspiration.
    With my love and admiration Rachael Gregson

  9. 9 John April 16, 2012 at 12:53 am

    Thoughts about balancing acceptance of now whilst keeping hope alive for a better future

    Mark, we met many years ago during the time you were in UCD.

    Back then you had (and still do) a can do attitude and a wish to excel with your given abilities. Accepting your new abilities as part of your evolving character and identity is a first ‘big step’. There is a time when the idea of a ‘cure’ fades and your ambition to get on with living life to the fullest takes prominence. I guess I am saying for every hour you put in to regaining leg use, invest the same if not more in looking forward and becoming Mark with all that is your new identity, characteristics and abilities.

    Who am I? I am a guy who acquired spinal chord injury at age 23 and reinvented myself professionally, personally and emotionally to be where I am today (20 years later), a very happy and accomplished man who happens to use a wheelchair to get around. This did not come without its low points along the way. Many people were shocked to hear me say “No, I ain’t going to walk again, but I sure am going to enjoy life regardless”, this acceptance was probably more difficult for family and friends than for me. It is a process that all your family and friends inevitably go through at some stage. Life really began for me post injury once all my friends and family were on board with my acceptance and dedication to moving on…and life has been a blast since!

    Caveat: This is just advice based on my experiences.

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