(WTVR/CNN) — A Virginia veteran who had been confined to a wheelchair is starting to walk again, thanks to an experimental device that could offer hope to thousands of others like him.
For 33 years, Terry Labar has been looking up at life. His career as a U.S. Marine was derailed when a car slammed into him on a road in the Middle East.
Now paralyzed from the waist down, Labar had difficulty adjusting to his new reality.
Traumatic injuries were nothing new to him. During the Vietnam War in 1970, he said “I was rappelling out of a helicopter and fell about 90 feet and broke my back.”
Labar would make a full recovery and return to his unit. “If you’re a Marine, duty is everything.”
The married father of two vowed then, as now, not to be defeated. “I think that is the best thing for anyone with a disability,” he said. “Work with what you have, make the best of it and have a good, positive attitude.”
Since his paralysis, Labar has competed in marathons, carried the Olympic torch in 1996 and worked 20 years with the FBI.
His loved ones marvel at his drive. Son Sean says “he just kind of tackles the day with the mentality that I’m going to do this. I’m not going to let anything hold me back.”
His father remains the perfect role model. “If I can be even half the man that he’s been to me as a dad, when I one day have kids, I think I’ll be doing a pretty good job.”
Betsy Labar says physical limitations were no match for her husband. “It was pretty tough,” she said. “But he just stepped up and coached lacrosse, coached baseball.”
Her husband says “I’m just a regular guy that got hurt, tried to raise a family and be as good a father and husband as I could.”
Labar recently took one giant leap in his life. During physical therapy, he was fitted with a motorized exoskeleton. This would be the first time he would walk since 1984.
“I remember standing up and feeling about 10 feet tall. It was really surreal, it really was.”
The Marine veteran is training to use the device twice a week, which is no small task. “I’ve done four Marine Corps marathons and I was more tired doing that than running the marathons,” he said with a laugh. “It’s practice but if I can do it, anyone can.”
“It was just unbelievable just to see him upright after all of those years,” wife Betsy said.
Once he masters the technology, Labar will walk into his next chapter of life. He will carry the same can-do spirit, but now enjoy a new outlook on life.
“I’ve always been of the opinion there is no finish line,” he said. “I wouldn’t change a thing. I would not turn the clock back because I’ve been a lucky person. I have been blessed with a great family. I just don`t think it could get any better than this.”