EDITOR'S NOTE: As Saturday's Cooper River Bridge Run nears, we revisit a memorable story from last year. Adam Gorlitsky, who was paralyzed in a car wreck in 2005, used a ReWalk exoskeleton to walk most of the Bridge Run.
But that was just a start. Since then, he has walked portions of other races in Charleston and across the nation.
Q: Your quest to walk the Bridge Run is nearing its one-year anniversary. Can you bring everyone up to date on all that has transpired since last April?
A: Wow, the past year. ... I think the best way to summarize it all would be that I’ve spent it walking, racing and figuring out exactly what "I Got Legs" is going forward and where we fit within the disability and sports communities.
Q: With a goal of now walking a million steps in races, when do you think you will accomplish that?
A: I’m at 104,990 steps right now, and every race over the past year since last year’s Bridge Run has been pretty strategic. Because of that, I get to now enjoy the million steps a lot more, so to answer the question ... hopefully never.
I walk a lot slower than the average able-bodied walker, so what I've learned from doing all these races is that I have to treat each race course the same way golf courses do with the different sets of tee boxes for the different skill and strength levels.
So for example, for 5Ks, I start at mile marker 1.5 and it takes me about one hour and 15 minutes to finish the race. ... For marathons, I start at mile marker 20 and it takes me six to seven hours to finish, depending on battery changes.
This (strategy) allows me to not only be able to start each race with everyone, but it allows me to finish with everyone too, namely the slower runners.
It also allows for me to be the same amount of tiredness as all the other race participants when crossing the finish line, too, which means I get to enjoy the post-race celebration with everyone. I love a good bourbon.
With all that said, my goal now is to create the "Survival of the Fittest: ReEnabled Racing Circuit" that benefits "I Got Legs." Why am I calling it the "Survival of the Fittest" ... and not "I Got Legs"? Because I haven't used any donations to "I Got Legs" to pay for me walking these races. I've used only credit cards, and money I get from government Social Security to fund this whole endeavor.
I am not my cause, but I am a product of my cause.
Q: What has been the most challenging race to date for you and why?
A: The 2016 Cooper River Bridge Run. That bridge is intense. A close second would be the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. For some reason that race felt like it was never going to end.
Q: Can you give us some sense of the people you have reached in doing these races? And are there people who are now getting exoskeletons as a result of hearing about you?
A: The one thing I’ve realized over the past year is that we all have some kind of adversity we are carrying around inside of us. Mine just happens to be something you can see, feel and touch.
In terms of people now getting their exoskeletons, paralysis victims are now reaching out to me over social media and they are now working with the manufacturer on starting the process of the 30-40 hours of required FDA exoskeleton training.
Insurance companies ... currently don’t cover the cost of these exoskeletons, which is $85,000, so it’s now my job to put together the team and systems within "I Got Legs" that ensures those people get their legs back once they’ve completed the training. It all starts with getting more board members.
Q: How is the exoskeleton holding up? Are there technical issues? And are there any financial constraints?
A: The Betty Carlton (his nickname for his exoskeleton using his grandmother's first name "Betty" and the name of his favorite TV Show character "Carlton" on the "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air") is holding up great!
One thing about ReWalk that I love is that when my new legs start giving me trouble, they literally fly in two days later to fix it. The support team is almost just as important as the legs themselves.
As far as payment goes, I have one more payment left on the legs, then I’m officially a free agent to start working with all the other FDA approved exoskeleton companies.
Q: What are your thoughts about being part of the 40th Bridge Run? Do you think disabled people would’ve ever dreamed about something like this happening back in 1978?
A: A past girlfriend once taught me that instead of speaking out on behalf of others, I should just wake up everyday and figure out ways to inspire myself. Because of that, I now have other paralysis victims reaching out to me and inspiring me to dream even bigger than I ever thought imagined. Cheers to the Betty Carlton!