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Editorial: On Charleston streets, a marathon effort among marathoners

Adam Gorlitsky

Adam Gorlitsky walks with help of his Exoskeleton on the former Charleston Naval Base Friday afternoon, slightly more than halfway through the Charleston Marathon route. Robert Behre/Staff

Completing a marathon without functioning legs or a wheelchair is almost inconceivable.

But Adam Gorlitsky of Mount Pleasant not only finished the Charleston Marathon Saturday, he set a world record for completing this 26.2-mile-long race with a so-called "exoskeleton." His accomplishment should inspire us all.

His hat read, "I got legs," and while that's technically true, this 32-year-old former track athlete has not been able to control them since being paralyzed after a car accident 14 years ago. He has one of several hundred high-ReWalk Robotic Exoskeltons ever made, and the battery-powered device propels his legs while Mr. Gorlitsky uses his upper body — and a pair of walking poles — to maintain his balance.

The University of South Carolina and Wando High graduate tried to finish the Los Angeles Marathon last year but came up a little short. He started his latest marathon Thursday night in hopes of breaking the 36-hour, 46-minute world record for an exoskelton athlete as other runners in the Charleston Marathon crossed the finish line around midday Saturday.

It wasn't easy. We caught up with Gorlitsky at the half-way point on the Charleston Naval Base Friday afternoon. He was ahead of schedule but also visibly tired and frustrated by technological glitches, including battery issues. His pace was slowing, and everyone knew his toughest miles lay ahead.

These exoskeletons weren't built with marathons in mind. Mr. Gorlitsky had to summon enough mental toughness not only to push on despite aching arms and hands but also to overcome sleep deprivation and his understandable frustration when his technology acted up. One of his companions along the way Friday likened the effort to learning to ride a unicycle while juggling flaming balls.

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Mr. Gorlitsky told our reporter Andrew Miller that he feels different in his exoskeleton. “I don’t feel disabled and don’t feel able-bodied. I feel re-enabled.”

As Dr. Stanley Gorlitsky walked along slowly with the small entourage, he was less interested in basking in his son's athletic and mental toughness than his good work helping others through the I Got Legs foundation. The foundation has raised thousands of dollars to help other physically challenged people improve their lives through technological innovations.

Dr. Gorlitsky talked about the Zen attitude and problem solving necessary to embrace the reality of paralysis and move forward: "You have to convince yourself this is the best thing that ever happened to you. It's problem solving."

And a big payoff came Saturday, when Mr. Gorlitsky finished in 33 hours, 50 minutes and 24 seconds, almost three hours under the record.

But it's important to remember that his efforts on the streets of Charleston and North Charleston stand not only as a laudable athletic achievement but also, and perhaps more importantly, a milestone in a much longer race of resiliency and generosity — a race where the finish line is not yet in sight.

Reach Robert Behre at 843-937-5771. Follow him on Twitter @RobertFBehre.

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