This Weekend: Quadriplegic Athlete Runs Marathon

Getting ready for the weekend? Big plans? Maybe eat some barbecue, hang out with the fam, hit the town?

Meet Dr. Dale Hull. Tomorrow morning, while we're sleeping off our Friday night festivities, he'll be running a marathon. Some of our readers who have similarly athletic plans may wonder why Dale Hull gets recognition and they do not.*

That's because Dr. Hull is a quadriplegic who re-taught himself how to walk with the help of extensive physical therapy. He'll be running his marathon in water, where he's less confined by his injuries. NEWSWEEK's Rebecca Shabad talked to Dr. Hull today about his recovery, his work, and his big day tomorrow: Excerpts below


Ten years ago, you had a life-changing accident on a trampoline. What happened exactly?

It was a back flip that went bad. I didn't fly off the trampoline; I actually came down on the trampoline mat. I immediately heard a pop in my neck and my entire body went completely numb like flipping a switch. I bounced on the trampoline and rested on my stomach, face-down. I knew immediately that I had sustained a spinal cord injury and that I would probably be in a power wheelchair. I mean, I knew how bad it was.

Describe the struggle that you've been through.
(Laughs) in 25 words or less, right? Struggle is probably a good word. I've always referred to what's happened to me as an adventure. Like any good adventure, it has contained all the elements of mystery, intrigue, divine intervention, fear, depression, anger—I mean all you can imagine. We are typically defined by what we do in life, and when you can't do what you used to do, you suddenly find yourself struggling for an identity. I had been a very busy practicing independent physician, and I went from being totally independent to totally dependent in a matter of a fraction of a second.

But after all of this you're running a more than 26-mile marathon tomorrow in your clinic's pool. Isn't it unusual for a paralyzed person to move again?
It is. Obviously with the severity of my injury, I don't think I would have predicted, nor do I think anybody who took care of me would have ever predicted, that I would have this much function. Some of that is unexplainable. I can't give you a reason for that. I feel very fortunate. It's required a lot of hard work.

What have you had to do to prep for tomorrow?
I've been using the aquatic therapy pool for quite a while to maintain some wellness and fitness. Last fall I started to feel much worse—gained weight, poor energy, struggled, kind of not really taking good care of myself. It's the stuff when you get older. I need to challenge myself again. I kind of hatched the idea of, "I think I'll run a marathon." I can run in the water but I can't run on land. For the past 20 weeks, I've been running six days a week to prepare. I've logged about somewhere close to 385 miles training.

How does running in a pool work? Don't you get that walk-on-the-moon feeling?

For me, walking is a very conscious act. I have to think about the mechanics of walking or I'll begin to stumble. I always feel like I'm being dragged down, so when I try and run on land it just doesn't work. When I did it in the water, obviously there's a buoyancy effect.

You carried the Olympic torch at the 2002 games in Salt Lake City. What was that like?
That was a thrill experience in and of itself. The opportunity to be part of that event was a great honor but even more so was the fact that I was able to carry the torch without any sort of assisted device—a cane, a crutch a wheelchair, with my own hands with gloves on, on a very cold day was amazing and then there were hundreds of people who came out specifically just to support me.

You've achieved so much and yet you're still partially paralyzed.
I still struggle with balance. If I'm in a dark room, I have to be very careful. I don't have normal hand functions. I'm partially numb from the chest down as well as partially paralyzed. I have what is known as nerve pain, or paresthesia. Do you know that feeling when your arm goes to sleep and it wakes up and it has that pins and needles feeling? That's the way my whole body feels all the time.

You cofounded and now oversee the operations at Neuroworx—a physical therapy clinic. What would you say to some who is paralyzed and has little hope in recovering?
It's very easy for these people to give up and to learn to be takers instead of givers. We know were not miracle workers. We're not going to make everybody walk, but if we make their spirits walk and get them back to where they're thinking about what are the things they do, then I think we've done a great thing.

*Unless you are this guy. Then you too, deserve a special shout-out. Well done, Phil Packer!