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Paralyzed man overcomes ‘amazing odds’ to help others

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When he was 19, a cliff-diving accident left Dan Cummings of Hyde Park paralyzed from the neck down, and doctors told him that he’d be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Yesterday, 10 years after that diagnosis, he walked a mile.

“The years came and went, but I knew as long as I took it one day at time and gave it my all, I would walk again,” Cummings said. “I’ve come a long way,”

The 29-year-old walked to benefit Journey Forward, the Canton-based nonprofit he founded two years ago to push those with spinal cord injuries to better their lives.

He crossed the finish line within an hour.

“Dan has overcome amazing odds to participate in this walk,” said Dr. Steve Williams, director of the New England Regional Spinal Cord Injury Center at Boston Medical Center. “Dan’s type of injury does not often result in such wonderful recovery. His functional abilities are a testament to his hard work over the years in physical therapy and a bit of good luck.”

In 2003, with a dream of living independently, Cummings moved to California to become a client at Project Walk, a program that provides rehabilitation for those with spinal-cord injuries through intense exercise. After four years, enduring electrical stimulation and standing-frame therapies, upper body and total gym workouts and extensive periods on spinbikes and treadmills, he moved back home with the ability to get around with a walker.

“I had a new goal to bring that program back to Boston so others wouldn’t have to move 3,000 miles away to find a place that would help them walk,” said Cummings. Today, his facility has five full-time specialists and 33 clients.

“It’s a one-of-a-kind place,” said client Matt Brown, 16, a Norwood High School student who broke his third and fourth cervical vertebrae while playing hockey. Through Journey Forward, he said, the paralyzed athlete regained some sensation in his legs and a new ability to move his feet despite nerve damage.

“He’s an inspiration,” said Brown as he cheered Cummings on and rooted for the Journey Forward program. “It’s amazing, because he’s overcome paralysis and it’s my goal to do the walk sometime as well.”

The event, which capped 10 months of campaigning, raised an estimated $75,000 for Journey Forward.

“Physically, I’m beat,” Cummings said afterward, “but emotionally I feel like I’m flying.”

By Colneth Smiley Jr.

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