Community Spotlight: Mark Raymond Jr

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on September 01, 2022 # Community Spotlight

Mark RaymondIt was Mark Raymond, Jr.’s own experience with the healthcare system that inspired him to make changes for the disabled community in New Orleans.

Raymond, now 33, was 27 when he dove off a friend’s boat and shattered the fifth vertebra in his neck. Prior to his accident, he had worked as a broadcast engineer in the sports field.

Through navigating his stay in the ICU and then inpatient therapy, he learned firsthand how underserved the disabled community was. Once he was discharged from the hospital, it took him two months to get into an outpatient therapy program because there was a waiting list. When he got in, it was only for one or two days per week.

“It was a very inefficient process, and it led to a lot of isolation and depression for me,” says Raymond. “While I was simultaneously dealing with my own grief, not having a community to lean on in a way that was substantive and supportive was hard.”

After his allotted outpatient sessions ended, Raymond decided to go to an activity-based fitness center in California called SciFit, at his own expense.

“They challenged how my body could recover from a spinal cord injury,” says Raymond. “In the three months, I spent there, I felt stronger and like I was gaining more than in the whole year I’d spent in physical and occupational therapy previously.”

The center was very costly, but it was worth it in that it gave Raymond the idea of starting an organization that could provide the same types of services for people in New Orleans with spinal cord injuries and other debilitating conditions. He started to network and organize events so he could raise seed money to get the organization off the ground.

In April 2018, Raymond founded the Split Second Foundation. Its main goal was to make people aware of this sometimes-invisible population by advocating for their rights, funding cutting edge research, and providing clear-cut steps to immediately impact their lives.

Three years later, in 2021, Raymond opened Split Second Fitness, the first gym in Louisiana designed to exclusively serve people living with paralysis, amputation, or other neurological conditions.

Mark RaymondSplit Second Fitness members are initially assessed by staff, who evaluate their strengths, weaknesses, and deficits. Clients then receive an individualized regimen using exercises and treatments developed through activity-based therapy programs. Membership is not covered by insurance, but fees are nominal; most of the program is subsidized by the Foundation’s fundraising efforts.

Raymond is also determined to have an impact on increasing mobility options for people who are dependent on wheelchairs, scooters, and other assistive devices. New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell recently appointed him Chairman of the Board of Commissioners for the Regional Transit Authority, which operates, maintains, and administers the public transportation service in New Orleans.

“There are very limited transit options or transportation options for people with mobility challenges here,” says Raymond. “Uber and Lyft do not have a wheelchair accessible service yet. So, people either have to go through private companies that charge outrageous prices, creating another huge barrier for people.”

One of Raymond’s goals is to push for legislation that would require Uber and Lyft as well as some of the taxicab companies, to have wheelchair accessible vehicles available. He also imagines a nationwide policy that would require the major rental car companies to have a small percentage of their fleet consist of wheelchair accessible vehicles.

“That's another huge issue for folks,” he says. “I can't fly to Washington DC and just go to Avis and get a wheelchair accessible vehicle, and not having that option is just a huge disservice to folks with mobility challenges and who use mobility devices to get around.”

Raymond credits the adversity he’s faced with turning him into an activist.

“The power of adversity has always pushed human evolution,” says Raymond. “Adversity is the first step in most societal evolutionary processes—it goes adversity, inspiration, innovation, technology, which leads to the future. I'm really hopeful for tomorrow for all people who live with paralysis or some type of disability.”

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.