It was 1984, and Terry Labar was serving in the Middle East when he was struck by a car and thrown, paralyzing him from the waist down.
“I woke up the first day in Richmond and rolled over and saw the wheelchair next to the bed,” he tells WTVR. “Then it dawned on me. That was for me.”
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The accident may have derailed his career as a Marine, but it certainly didn’t stop him from living his life. The Vietnam vet and father of two from Fredericksburg, Virginia vowed never to be be defeated.
“I think that is the best thing for anyone with a disability,” he says. “Work with what you have make the best of it and have a positive attitude.”
In the 33 years since he was paralyzed, Labar has competed in marathons, carried the Olympic torch in 1996 and worked for 20 years with the FBI. Even from his chair, he managed to coach his sons in soccer, lacrosse and basketball.
“Really I am just a regular guy who got injured,” he explains. “Tried raising a family—be as good a father and husband as I could.”
Recently, Labar managed his most impressive accomplishment to date. Thanks to a study by McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond, the former marine was fitted with a motorized exoskeleton, and for the first time in more than 33 years, he walked.
“I remember standing up and I felt 10 feet tall,” he recalls to WTVR. “It was really surreal, it really was.”
But even for a man who’s done it all, it hasn’t been easy. “I’ve done four Marine Corps marathons and I was more tired doing that than running the marathons,” Labar says. “It’s practice but if I can do it, anyone can.”
For now, he’s practicing using the exoskeleton twice a week, and with some luck, he’ll be able to use it at home soon.
“We want to see if the device can give them the opportunity to be independent and improve their quality of life being home and surrounded by their loved ones and surrounded by their families,” Dr. Ashraf Gorgey, the Director of Spinal Cord Injury Research at McGuire, told WRIC.
“I wouldn’t change a thing,” he says. “I would not turn clock back. I’ve been a lucky person. I have been blessed with a great family. I just don’t think it could get any better than this.”