Paraplegics complete treks through Cooper River Bridge Run

Updated: Apr. 2, 2016 at 7:42 PM EDT
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Marka Danielle Rogers was partially paralyzed in a 2012 car accident. (Source: Live 5)
Marka Danielle Rogers was partially paralyzed in a 2012 car accident. (Source: Live 5)
Adam Gorlitsky was paralyzed in a 2005 car accident. (Source: Live 5)
Adam Gorlitsky was paralyzed in a 2005 car accident. (Source: Live 5)

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A pair of paraplegics completed Saturday's Cooper River Bridge Run thanks to technology and determination.

Marka Danielle Rogers finished the race Saturday morning.

Adam Gorlitsky finished the race Saturday afternoon shortly before 2:45 p.m.

Both suffered severe injuries in car accidents that made completing the country's third-largest 10K a significant challenge.

A 2012 car accident left Rodgers partially paralyzed, but she does have some feeling in her legs. This year's Bridge Run was not be her first time across the bridge. But the longtime dancer and former Charleston firefighter and EMS worker trained to get past her injuries.

She took on the 2016 Cooper Bridge Run with the help of battery-powered leg braces.

"I call them my purple legs," Rodgers said. "My favorite color is purple, my chair is purple and when they asked me what color I wanted my braces, of course, I chose purple."

"Marka used to work for me at the wellness center," Cooper River Bridge Run Director Julian Smith said. "She was a dancer and taught class. It'll be the first time that someone with nerve damage in their legs will be able to walk with these new legs. The technology is amazing."

The technology is also expensive. Her leg braces cost $20,000. A friend bought her legs but the price tag is part of the reason she decided to join the Bridge Run.

"This technology is not available to everybody but could be," she says. "I get up in the morning and look forward to doing things more than I ever did since the accident."

Rodgers says the leg braces are heavy; their use is limited to battery time. They can't get wet. But she's already done a test run across the Bridge.

"I don't know how you can not be inspired by Marka's journey," physical therapist Kyle Cooper says. "I'm inspired every day. Just to see if not this goal, then some other goal is possible for anybody, just have to shoot for it."

With the hashtag #PurpleLegsUp, she also wants to jump-start a conversation about the technology. She hopes to make such equipment accessible to others.

"If a family member, a patient, a therapist, a doctor, bracing companies, mostly insurance companies, to see that modern technology works," she says. "It is worth paying for, it is worth helping other people."

Gorlitsky, meanwhile, is hoping to become the first paralyzed man to walk the Cooper River Bridge Run after being confined to a wheelchair for a decade.

He fell asleep while driving Dec. 30, 2005, which led to a car accident that left him with a spinal cord injury, permanently paralyzing him from the waist down.

At the time, he was told he would never walk again.

But in December, Gorlitsky received his own robotic exoskeleton system, becoming the first person in South Carolina to get one.

"I grew up playing basketball and track and cross country at Wando High School," he said. "My body defined who I was. I was an athlete. So the second I stood up, I do feel more secure."

Gorlitsky is raising money to keep his robotic exoskeleton, which costs $100,000.

He says his mission while on his journey Saturday is to empower and connect people of all disabilities to help bridge the gab between what it means to be disabled and able-bodied.

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