Man Overcomes Paralysis to Run MarathonPosted on Oct 20th 2009 4:00PM by Jennifer Fields
Baker, 33, became paralyzed after diving into a swimming pool and hitting the bottom with his head. He fractured two cervical vertebrae and woke with no feeling in his arms or legs and wearing a halo brace. Some doctors were optimistic, however, saying that the damage to the spinal cord was "incomplete," meaning there was some chance that Baker might walk again. But other doctors told him he would never walk, use his hands or sit up on his own. "The biggest motivator for me is being told I can't do something," Baker says. "The first thing I told my mom in the hospital is that I would walk again." Baker, who at the time was in training for the 2008 Denver Marathon, made running the 2009 race his goal.
Just days after the accident, Baker was able to move a toe, soon a pinkie finger, then a knee. Within a few weeks he was able to hobble on crutches. "I've had doctors tell me the fact that I was in training for a marathon really helped my recovery," says Baker. "I was in top physical condition," he says. He slowly regained feeling and strength, but the odds were still stacked against him. He had to re-learn walking, then running -- and had to wear a halo brace for three months. "The fact that I was a runner before my accident meant that I knew what it was like to go through adversity. I knew what it was like to hit the wall and keep going. I hit the wall in my physical therapy, but I knew how to push through it," he says.
Baker began working with a trainer in March to help regain his physical ability. "What we were working on was re-education of his neuromuscular system in order to be able to allow him to run," trainer John Faczak told the Denver Post. "He could run a mile, but not very well, kind of limped through it. He couldn't pick up his legs, couldn't get the coordination right. He was having spasms in his arms and legs on his right side."
Eventually, Baker was training almost like any other would-be marathoner. In the past few weeks, however, he was battling pain in his knee and even a hernia. But Baker was determined to run and managed the pain with ibuprofen and ice.
Baker, who finished the marathon in an astonishing 4 hours, 34 minutes, 49 seconds, said the race "felt great" until mile 13, when the knee pain began to rival the hernia. "I was trying to manage it. I didn't want to stop. I didn't feel like that was an option," Baker says. Then, he hit the wall at mile 19." I had the Denver Post following me around on a bike and there was a photographer. I didn't want the story to be 'Denver Man Almost Finishes Marathon,' so it was a little extra motivation to keep going." Baker kept fighting and when he passed the 26-mile mark, he started crying. "It's hard to put it into words, " he says. "Everything that had happened to me in the last year -- all the pain and hard work, there was a reason for it."
Also crossing the finish line Sunday was Baker's father, Stan, who ran last year's Denver half-marathon in the bib Steve would have worn in the marathon that day and who was completing his 11th marathon. "All my friends and family were there, it was just euphoric," Baker says.
Baker, who is looking forward to weekends without long runs, has some rehab and a hernia procedure ahead of him. But, he says, "I'm already picking my next event."
Read more about Steve Baker in the Denver Post. And for more marathon inspiration, check out some stars who've run marathons.