Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Spotlight
January 2013 Spotlight: Hal Hargrave
1. Where were you employed before your spinal cord injury (SCI)? What were your interests?
I was employed by my dad’s company, Apex Imaging Services, and worked for him for three years. Prior to my injury, I was an avid baseball player and I was highly involved in extreme sports like snowboarding and wakeboarding. I had dreams of becoming a professional wakeboarder and simply loved the joy it brought to my life in so many different ways. I was very much into staying physically fit and active as I pursued many of my days in the weight room, working hard to become bigger and stronger. I was an outdoorsy type person who really enjoyed spending quality time with friends doing fun activities.
2. How were you injured? What was your initial prognosis?
Five short years ago, on July 26, 2007, I was involved in a rollover truck accident that left me a quadriplegic at the C5-6 level, and paralyzed from my neck down. Initially the doctors had told me that I had a 1-3 percent chance of ever walking again.
The first several months of my injury I was fighting for my life, trying to regain my health and stability, and most importantly, soul-searching for my value and purpose here still on this earth when something finally hit me one day. I realized everything I had done up until that point in my life had more or less been for the sake of my own self interests and how it would benefit me. I soon realized that my own personal attitude reflected upon those around me as they either saw me suffer or shine from the outcomes of a spinal cord injury. This reiterated to me that my true calling in life is helping other people. This opportunity arose just a few months after my injury.
This injury presents financial shortcomings to many individuals and their families. Through my journey, I have met many people who have sustained spinal cord injuries and who unfortunately are either under-insured or uninsured by their insurance companies. I realized and believed that I can make a difference by raising enough funds for those who needed assistance covering the cost of a spinal injury. I approached my family asking them for permission to take this a step further by trying to start my own foundation, The Be Perfect Foundation. They completely supported my efforts in making the biggest possible difference we could as a family to help other people.
Four years later after starting the foundation, we raised $1.7 million and in that amount time, the foundation was able to help hundreds of families get their feet back under them with a pursuit of regaining hope to someday walk again. We have helped in a multitude of ways by buying wheelchairs, adapting homes and cars, and most importantly, giving people with SCI the opportunity to continue their exercise-based therapy.
However, my passion didn’t just stop at raising money; I wanted it to be something even bigger! My passions and dreams soon became a reality as my family and I have just announced the first-ever franchise of Project Walk, in my hometown of Claremont, California, at the very gym I spent my childhood working out and achieving my dreams of bench pressing 315 pounds. I, my family, and the foundation could not be happier to call Claremont the new home of our dream facility, Project Walk Claremont!
3. How did you hear about Project Walk?
When I was in the rehab hospital at Casa Colina, my physiotherapist, Dr. Patterson, referred me to Project Walk and told me about all the great things this outpatient therapy has to offer along with the innovative research they have behind their method. My parents proceeded to follow up on this endeavor by going down to Project Walk. During this time, I was in the hospital and getting ready to transition home, and knew that my goal was to pursue outpatient therapy shortly upon my arrival home. My parents reported back with wonderful news and they believed that Project Walk would be a great transition for me.
4. What makes Project Walk so special and how has Project Walk changed your life?
Project Walk has truly changed my life in many ways. It is deeply special, not only to me, but to my family and friends who come and see what it’s all about. I think it would be fair to say that Project Walk changes people’s lives daily, even beyond the individuals who are dealing with the spinal cord injury. I continue to learn things at Project Walk that translate over to my personal life and how I approach every single day. Upon my therapy sessions at Project Walk, I have gained a new attitude towards my injury, recovery, and my future life and all that it has in store for me.
I believe that miracles are possible and even if I don’t recover to the point of being able-bodied again, I have realized that by being at Project Walk, I am proud of who I am and of how far I have come physically. I’ve also realized that this injury is much bigger than just walking. It is about all the little victories along the way, achieving those little goals that I was told I would never regain back. Just living a normal and independent lifestyle has made me stronger in all aspects of my life and that’s simply because of Project Walk.
5. What are your goals?
My current recovery goals go beyond just the physical aspects that come along with recovering and regaining mobility. I realized that walking again in all reality simply wouldn’t come easily or quickly and that I needed to set new goals in order to reach my pursuit of becoming comfortable and confident in the person I am today.
I had to understand that even though this injury happened to me, it also has affected so many individuals around me, in so many different ways. So the least I can do for them is maintain a positive attitude, give everything I have all the time, and always have a smile on my face while doing it because my actions as well as my attitude towards this injury affects everybody else around me. They feed off of my energy. So, I need to be a role model for people; to follow and reassure them that I’m not upset or depressed or angry, but I’m merely excited for what the future has in store for me and that is something they should be proud about and fully supportive of. Hopefully, in turn, it will be reflective upon their attitude and motivate them in their own lives.
6. What advice would you give to prospective clients?
I feel there is so much I could tell any new individual that is dealing with a spinal cord injury, but what I would tell them first is to reassure them that who they are at the time of the injury is not reflective upon who they will be the rest of their lives. This I’m referring to in a physical sense, and not who they are as a person. They should all understand that who they are as a person is somebody who is truly great. And that they are someone who will be accepted into society by so many people and loved in so many different ways. They need to be confident and fully understand that they still have something very valuable to offer to the world and to others. And who they are physically is only simply going to change and get much better by going to Project Walk. There are no guarantees in this journey, but by attending Project Walk, the worst thing that can happen to an individual with SCI is that they are going to get healthier, reduce their chance of secondary complications, put themselves in a position to potentially be a stem cell recipient years down the road and, most importantly, it will give them a new re-found outlook on their life and the new found motivation to want to go out and be better.
7. Hal’s progress since coming to Project Walk on November 12, 2007:
Lead SCI Specialist – Jason Smith: Hal’s biggest training improvement is the increase in nervous system activity resulting in initiation of certain leg movements. When Hal first came to Project Walk he was diagnosed as ASIA A complete, meaning no movement or sensory information below the level of injury. Hal now presents as ASIA B incomplete. Hal can stabilize his upper body by himself in hands and knees position. When he first came in just being on his elbows on his belly was very difficult.
SCI Specialist – Travis Harwood: When I think about what Project Walk stands for, a picture of Hal comes into my head. Hal’s attitude, hard work, and dedication shine through in every trip that he makes down to the facility; he is a beacon of hope to anybody that comes near, SCI or not. Not only does Hal’s work ethic embody everything that Project Walk should stand for, he also assumes the arduous responsibility of paying it forward. Hal’s “Be Perfect Foundation” has changed the lives of so many others, and given people whom might not have had a chance, a chance to take the “next step” in their recovery.
I look forward to working with Hal every day that he is here (even though sometimes we may get overly wrapped up in a conversation about football or food!). Hal has made me a better Specialist with his knowledge and understanding of his own body, and his injury, and I am grateful to him for that. Hal has a long road ahead of him, but with every day that he works, he is getting better. And every day, he is changing lives and making a difference in the SCI community; who knows how many more lives this kid will change while on his journey to recovery. I am so proud of you Hal, for everything that you do, and I am honored to be one of your trainers!