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A paralyzed man just broke a marathon world record with a robotic exoskeleton

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Completing a marathon is an amazing achievement for anyone. Completing one wearing a robot exoskeleton, after suffering a spinal cord injury that left the wearer paralyzed from the waist down, is nothing short of awe-inspiring. That’s what 33-year-old Adam Gorlitsky achieved when he completed the 2020 Charleston Marathon this past weekend.

“Fourteen years ago, I was driving back home from college and fell asleep at the wheel,” Gorlitsky told Digital Trends. “I wasn’t wearing my seatbelt, and I was involved in a single-person car accident. Doctors told me that I was going to be paralyzed from the belly button-down for the rest of my life.”

Gorlitsky was introduced to the ReWalk Robotic Exoskeleton, an exosuit for helping patients with spinal cord injuries to walk. “I used to run track and cross-country in high school, so the second that I saw this exoskeleton I thought I could totally use it to walk in road races,” he continued.

That’s exactly what he’s been doing. Wearing the $100,000 exoskeleton, Gorlitsky has been working (and walking) toward the goal of taking 1 million steps on road-races around the US. To date, that has included around 50 such races. But until last weekend, the one he hadn’t been able to conquer was a full marathon.

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“This was actually my second attempt,” he said. “My first attempt was last year’s Los Angeles Marathon. I could only do a total of 17.2 miles total before tapping out. It was brutal. There are so many hills.”

This weekend righted that wrong. Gorlitsky walked the Charleston Marathon in 33 hours, 16 minutes, and 28 seconds. In doing so, he broke the Guinness World Record for exoskeleton marathon-walking, taking the record previously held by British man Simon Kindleysides, who completed the 2018 London Marathon in 36 hours and 46 minutes.

Gorlitsky noted that his exosuit held up impressively well. “It’s got a battery life of about 2.5 hours, [which meant] I had to keep swapping out my batteries,” he said. “But overall it held up great. With the Los Angeles Marathon, I blew out both of my hip motors because I was climbing so many hills. With this Charleston Marathon, there were still hills, but they were more gradual inclines.”

Gorlitsky is currently around 400,000 steps into his 1 million step mission. He walks road-races on behalf of his non-profit organization I Got Legs, which seeks to help other athletes with physical challenges gain access to innovative forms of mobility technology.

“When I’m standing and walking in my ReWalk exoskeleton, I do not feel disabled,” Gorlitsky stated. “Nor do I feel able-bodied. Instead, I feel re-enabled. I feel empowered. I’m free to take on the world.”

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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