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Coco Warner Reporting...Hundreds of thousands of people suffer from spinal cord injuries in the United States. Many are told they will never walk again. But, here in Utah, a unique program, takes issue with that. It tries to get people out of their wheelchairs and walking again.
Leighton Weber has been a fitness trainer for more than 20 years. In the last thirteen, Weber worked exclusively with victims of spinal cord injuries.
Most are paraplegics and quadriplegics. He calls them his Warriors -- saying they wage war against what's accepted and, expected.
Michael Losee: "THIS IS ABOUT 50 TIMES FASTER THAN WHEN I STARTED. THAT'S FOR SURE."
Faster … and totally unexpected. Doctors told 19-year old Michael Losee he would never walk again after a snowboarding accident. But here he is...
Michael Losee: "HOW I FELT INSIDE I KNEW THAT I WOULD WALK AGAIN, I DIDN'T KNOW HOW AND I DIDN'T KNOW WHEN, I JUST KNEW IT WOULD HAPPEN AND I NEVER LET THAT DIE."
Michael has been one of Leighton Weber's warriors for 9 months now. When he first started training, he couldn't even sit up by himself. And he wasn't the only one.
Matt Wyffels: "HAVE YOUR KNEE TRACK YOUR TOE, IF YOUR KNEE TRACKS YOUR TOE, YOU WON'T BE WORKING ANY OUTSIDE AREA."
Matt Wyffels snowboarded professionally... he was injured in a competition last winter. After training with Leighton for several months -- he was able to get back on a board with his braces, just last month.
Tim Ostler wanted to stand at his wedding.
Tim Ostler: “I WANTED TO STAND UP WHEN I MARRIED MY WIFE KELLI, SO I BEGAN WORKING OUT OF FEBRUARY FIRST 2002, AND BY THE TIME SEPTEMBER ROLLED AROUND I WAS ABLE TO STAND UP FOR THE FULL CEREMONY."
What motivates them may be different -- but what they all share in common, is the desire to get out of their wheelchairs.
Leighton Weber: "CAUSE IT'S MUCH EASIER TO ROLL IN A WHEELCHAIR THEN IT IS TO WALK AROUND, YOU'RE MUCH BETTER UNDERSTOOD IN A WHEELCHAIR, CAUSE YOU SHOULD BE IN A WHEELCHAIR ACCORDING TO ACCEPTED MANNER, RATHER THAN WALKING AROUND WHICH IS NOT WELL UNDERSTOOD AT ALL."
Leighton's warriors say they are learning to walk again, just like they did the first time, as infants. First they learn to crawl, increase their balance, until finally, they are able to put on braces and walk with canes -- after months of painstaking effort.
And many of their achievements defy medical convention. Paraplegics and quadriplegics who lift heavy weights? Complete squat presses and leg presses?
Leighton Weber: "WHY ARE THEY CALLED WARRIORS-- THAT'S WHY.THEY WAR WITH ACCEPTED MANNER."
Michael Losee: "THIS IS OUR WAR IN HERE, AND WE'VE ALL GOT EACH OTHER'S BACKS AND WE ALL WORK HARD, WE ALL PUSH EACH OTHER AND PRAISE EACH OTHER AND WE HAVE FUN."
And achieve their goals.
On the day of this interview, Michael Losee and Matt Wyffels had just turned in their wheelchairs. They have now been walking with braces and canes exclusively for nearly 4 weeks.
And they're not looking back.