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Great Feeling Just to be Up Again

By: Janelle LoBello

JohnB treadmill
Benedetto's therapy includes locomotor training.

Living with a C6 spinal cord injury from a body surfing accident in July 2009, two-time Team Reeve® handcyclist John Benedetto is now taking on more than just marathons. Benedetto is part of the Reeve Foundation NeuroRecovery Network (NRN) at Kessler Rehabilitation Institute in West Orange, NJ.

(Watch a video of John's day at the 2011 ING New York City Marathon.)

The NeuroRecovery Network (NRN) is a cooperative network of cutting-edge rehabilitation centers designed to provide and develop therapies to promote functional recovery and improve the health and quality of life of people with paralysis.

Beginning the NRN program in December of 2011, Benedetto, age 26, is eager. "It's something I've always wanted to try," says Benedetto of his desire to be part of the NRN. "It just opened up for people with an injury of my criteria, so I was fortunate to be one of the first to participate. I've been pushing for this for two years."

Feeling the feeling
Fully aware of how the NRN program has helped other individuals living with spinal cord injuries, Benedetto didn't stray from wanting to try it for himself. "I want to do it and see what benefits I get out of it," explains Benedetto, "and take advantage of it."

Whether it is a feeling of accomplishment or a physical feeling, Benedetto finds his experiences at the NRN to be uplifting. "The biggest enjoyment I get out of it," explains Benedetto, "is it's just a great feeling to be up again."

With some sensation in his legs, Benedetto feels the impact of taking steps. "I could feel, kind of knowing, which step I'm taking," explains Benedetto of his therapy at the NRN known at locomotor training. Locomotor training is the method of physical therapy currently deployed by the NRN. In locomotor training sessions the body of the paralyzed patient is suspended in a harness over a treadmill, while specially-trained therapists move their legs to simulate walking. As the patient regains function, he moves from the treadmill to conventional walking. No two NRN patients will respond in exactly the same way, nor is each patient likely to experience the entire range of possible changes and improvements.

JohnB marathon1
Benedetto participating in a
2011 Team Reeve® marathon.

"It's not like I don't know what's going on below me, I can feel that," explains Benedetto, "that feeling of pressure on the bottom of my feet and actually walking. That feeling of feeling my body walk is kind of cool."

Doesn't hurt to try
Benedetto, a runner and baseball player prior to his injury, taps into his athleticism to persevere in his recovery. "When you're an athlete, and when you work out, you're cognizant of isolating the right muscles," explains Benedetto, a huge New York Yankees fan. "The proper form, proper technique, and awareness help overall through my whole injury, working out my upper body, and making sure when they say 'do an external rotation' that I'm doing it right. That athletic approach to the recovery definitely helps."

Just like any athlete, Benedetto, who plans on handcycling in two to three half-marathons in 2012 leading up to his third ING New York City Marathon in November for Team Reeve®, is committed to getting the most out of his NRN sessions with a belief in good old fashion hard work. "I know that if I work hard and stay positive," says Benedetto, "I will continue to get stronger and become more independent."

Learn More
Learn all about how the Reeve Foundation NeuroRecovery Network (NRN) is developing and expanding access to activity-based therapies, resulting in improved health, quality of life, and function.

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Continue Christopher Reeve's LegacyPhoto by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders