Moving forward

By PATTY McCORMAC For the North County Times Jennifer McCallson, 28, a competitive cheerleader, collided with another cheerleader doing back flips in the summer of 1999. She broke her neck and was paralyzed from the neck down.

Last year, Brent Thomas, 26, was sitting on a retaining wall and fell over backward into the street. He broke his neck and was paralyzed from the neck down.
Hal Hargrave,18, was in a rollover traffic accident in July 2007. He too was left paralyzed.

They are just three of the hundreds who have come to Project Walk in Carlsbad in hopes of regaining their ability to walk.

Some do. Some never will. But the organization offers hope to those who have been told to get used to life in a wheelchair.

Doctors told Hargrave he had a 1 to 3 percent chance of walking again after his accident.

"I'm here to prove them wrong, and this is the place I'm going to do it," said the Los Angeles County resident during a recent workout at Project Walk. He said his core muscles (torso) are getting stronger, and spasms are increasing in his legs that he hopes will translate into movement.

Project Walk does not work for everyone and there are no guarantees, but there have been some incredible successes over the last nine years. Some of them can be seen standing, holding a wheelchair over their heads, in pictures on the walls of Project Walk on Loker Street.

"We are not doing therapy. We are not doing anything medical," said Ted Dardzinski, founder of Project Walk. "This is a gym. We focus on clients who have spinal cord injuries."

Formally known as the Project Walk Institute of Spinal Cord Injury Recovery, the program is dedicated to exploring, expanding, improving and setting the standard in the field of spinal-cord injury recovery. Project Walks have recently opened in Portland, Ore., and Boston.

Approximately 250,000 to 400,000 individuals in the United States have spinal cord injuries, according to the National Spinal Cord Injury Foundation. Every year, approximately 11,000 people sustain new spinal cord injuries which is 30 new injuries every day. Most of these people are injured in auto and sports accidents, falls, and industrial mishaps. An estimated 60 percent of these individuals are 30 or younger, and most are men.