Hope Happens Here: Dennis and Anita McGorty

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on October 01, 2020 # Hope Happens Here: 25 Stories

Like so many dads, Dennis McGorty was excited to teach his son how to ride a bike. A former world-class collegiate decathlete, Dennis had become an avid cyclist and the opportunity to share his passion with his son, Declan, became a full-circle moment both will remember forever.

“While he was learning to ride, Declan exclaimed, ‘this is impossible,’ in a moment of frustration,” says Dennis. It was an opportunity for Dennis to instill the values of perseverance and resilience in his son, two traits Dennis understood the power of first-hand.Dennis and Declan riding

Several years earlier, Dennis had been out cycling on a beautiful spring morning just a few blocks from home when a landscaping truck took an abrupt turn, hitting Dennis and pinning him under the truck’s trailer. In addition to nine broken ribs and many other injuries, the 43-year-old sustained a T10 complete spinal cord injury.

“He survived an unsurvivable accident,” says Dennis’ wife, Anita. “We were so fortunate, and our focus was on doing everything we could for maximum recovery.”

Like so many whose lives are changed by a spinal cord injury, the McGorty’s had to find a path forward.

“We felt fortunate to be connected to the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation soon after Dennis’ injury,” says Anita. “The foundation is synonymous with helping this community, and we were desperate for guidance. Without them, finding all the information and support we needed wouldn’t have been possible.”

After several weeks of intensive care, Dennis was transferred to Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange, NJ, and participated in the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation NeuroRecovery Network for several months, which enabled him to improve his overall fitness and his reaching and leaning ability.

“We are grateful that the Reeve Foundation was able to step in to guide us on so many levels,” says Anita. It was then, and continues to be, our best and most trusted resource and support system, in addition to the tremendous advocacy and cutting-edge innovation the foundation is driving towards a cure.”

The McGorty’s are inspired by the Reeve Foundation’s commitment to advancing the most promising current research and building on the success of The Big Idea

“From early on, the Reeve Foundation has provided hope, hope for the here and now and hope for the future,” says Dennis. “The Reeve Foundation has been so central to our ability to live a vibrant life and when the opportunity arose to raise awareness for the foundation and do something I love; it was the perfect match.”

Two years after his 2013 accident, Dennis got back on the road and handcycled in the TCS New York City Marathon, raising more than $18,000 for Team Reeve. His first handcycle was made possible by a Challenged Athletes Foundation grant.Dennis at the NYC marathon

“Cycling was something I never thought I’d be able to do again. The ability to train and compete again felt like a rebirth,” says Dennis. “It’s great to be an athlete and feel a sense of normalcy again. It felt like the next best thing to Christmas morning—that feeling will come when we figure out a cure for spinal cord injury.”

Since that first marathon in 2015, Dennis has participated in four additional races and was slated to handcycle in three 2020 marathons before the races were canceled due to COVID. To date, the McGorty’s have raised more than $100,000 for the Reeve Foundation.

“Hope is what it is all about for me, that’s what keeps me going,” says Dennis. “It’s like a wheel. If I keep riding and training, I can keep raising money to find a cure and keep hope going.”

In the spirit of cycling, the McGorty’s often compare their journey and the next chapter to a “revolution,” the term for one cycle of a wheel.

“At first, we thought our story would go in one full revolution of a wheel from injury to walking, but we have learned that it is not that simple,” says Anita. “We’ve had to reframe our thinking—to appreciate the moments and milestones along the way—and understand that one turn of the wheel doesn’t get you too far. A wheel needs to keep turning. It needs continued strength and power to propel you forward.”

The McGorty’s commitment to moving forward and helping others is certainly a family affair. In addition to actively fundraising through Team Reeve, the couple attends A Magical Evening as well as other Reeve Foundation events each year, and Anita has been a Reeve Foundation board member since 2014. Further, this year, the entire family, including their son and daughter, will be participating in the Reeve Run and Roll virtual 5K on October 17 to continue to fundraise for the foundation.Dennis wearing a Team Reeve tshirt with his children

“It is such an honor to work with the Reeve Foundation in any capacity,” says Anita. “We get to see first-hand how the Reeve Foundation improves the lives of those injured and their families and the unique role it fills to help this community.”

The couple’s positive attitude is something they’ve also instilled in their kids. As part of a recent school assignment, Declan, who is now 12 years old, wrote about that first experience of learning to ride a bike with his dad and the powerful lesson he learned about how what seems impossible can become possible.

“We’re all capable of so much more than we know,” says Dennis. “Often, it takes being pushed to the limits before we realize it. But that drive and ability lives within all of us.”