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Robotic exoskeleton powers paralyzed man to marathon world record

Adam Gorlitsky of Charleston, South Carolina used the ReWalk Robotic Exoskeleton to achieve a 33-hour marathon

Those who think the marathon is beyond their capabilities might find inspiration in the story of Adam Gorlitsky of Charleston, South Carolina. Gorlitsky, 32, who is paralyzed from the waist down, successfully walked the Charleston Marathon last weekend wearing a robotic exoskeleton suit that allows him to walk with crutches. It took him 33 hours, 16 minutes and 28 seconds, and it wasn’t the first time it had been done–Gorlitsky took more than three hours off the existing Guinness World Record for such a feat (unofficially).

Photo: Facebook

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CNN reported the story on Sunday. Gorlitsky, who had been an athletic high schooler competing in cross country and track, became paralyzed after a single-car accident at the age of 19. He started walking at 10:30 p.m. Thursday evening, January 9 and finished Saturday morning (during the actual race). He did not stop to sleep. Gorlitsky has participated in more than 50 races wearing the exoskeleton.

Gorlitsky was offered the chance to try the ReWalk Exoskeleton at his healthcare facility in 2015. It had been 10 years since he had stood up on his own. The ReWalk is powered at the hip and knee, but most of the power comes from the wearer’s crutching motion, which involves repetitive motions of the arms and core. With help and support from his dad, Gorlitsky practised using the ReWalk, and started training for a 10K race–the 2016 Cooper River Bridge Run. It took him almost 17 hours, but he did it. “It was the best day of my life,” he says.

In 2018 he moved up to a half-marathon. Then he found out about singer-songwriter Simon Kindleysides of the U.K., who set a time of 36 hours, 46 minutes at the 2018 London Marathon, also wearing the ReWalk exoskeleton. That’s the existing Guinness World Record, and Gorlitsky wanted to beat it.

He tried to walk the Los Angeles Marathon in 2019, but the hilly course stopped him after 17.2 miles (27.7 kilometres) and 28 hours of walking. (It takes him about 55 minutes to walk a mile in the suit.)

This weekend was his second try at the marathon distance. This time, he was successful.

Gorlitsky is the founder of I GOT LEGS, a not-for-profit dedicated to improving the lives of disabled people by helping them access programs, services and grants, and to facilitating improvements to technology that supports the disabled. His aim is the “re-enablement” of those who, like him, have experienced life-altering accidents.

He told us that four years ago, he fundraised for his own exoskeleton. At the time, it cost about US $80,000. Now, the cost is over US $100,000.