Disability Issues

Disabled man biking across America

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

On April 15, a 52-year-old man from the Chicago area with physical disabilities began his biggest challenge -- biking across the United States.

Determined to live a full life after becoming disabled in 2007, Mark Stephan has surpassed all expectations.

The road to recovery for anyone faced with serious physical disabilities is grueling.

Stephan not only refused to accept the fact that he would no longer be able to walk again, he did whatever he could to make this happen and more.

"I was always athletic and I biked for the social aspects," Stephan said. "I had been a runner at one point in my life and had moved to cycling because it was easier on the body."

On Aug. 11, 2007, Stephan's life changed.

"I had a bike accident where I was thrown over the front of my handle bar and broke my neck," he said. "I fractured my C2 (and) C3 vertebrae and pinched my spinal cord severely. I had central cord syndrome, a broken neck and pinched spinal cord.

"I spent a month in intensive care at Northwestern&I had no feeling or sensation from the neck down and was told that it would be unlikely that not only would I never walk again but I would have no use of my limbs."

That was four and half years ago. With the extraordinary therapy from the Rehabilitation Institue of Chicago, Stephan started training again.

"I was able to climb to the top of Willis Towers and have been able to do that a couple of times now," Stephan said. "The first time it took me I believe two hours and 45 minutes, a hundred and two flights. Then I climbed again the next year. I was about an hour faster and then I climbed it a third time and I was a little bit faster."

Dr. Jason Conviser is an exercise physiologist and professional friend who has been working with Stephan for four years. He said Stephan's determination made this happen.

"He said 'I want a different way for my life I don't want to be limited to a wheelchair. Let's figure out a way of doing it.' " Conviser said. "Mark has surrounded himself with a variety of professionals (and) each of us have a unique way of dealing with him and trying all kinds of exercise and techniques to get his muscle stronger.

"Usually when people have injuries as Mark has had, we think that 18 months to two years there will be no more progress but what's we've learned. The more exercise and the more attention we give Mark, he's actually improving at a faster pace."

Stephan is riding from San Diego to St. Augustine, Fla., using a recumbent tricycle.

"I'm hoping for 75 days, Stephan said. "There are certain medical professionals that think it will be significantly longer, but 75 days is the goal."

Money raised from this trip will go to RIC.

"I have been very grateful to the RIC," Stephan said. "I believe that particularly all of us here in Chicago have a unique opportunity and almost an obligation to support this organization. It's an amazing place. It's a place where miracles happen."

You can follow his journey at www.stephanchallenge.com

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