Editor’s Note: When fitness enthusiast Richard Corbett fell 50 feet while out for a jog in 2010, he broke both his legs, shattered an elbow, and sustained an L2 incomplete spinal cord injury. The next few years were spent in and out of rehab, both to recover from his physical injuries as well as his addiction to narcotics and other drugs. Ultimately accepting the use of a wheelchair, Corbett eventually chose to get back to living life. Recently, he decided the knowledge he’d acquired over the years could be a valuable resource for the newly injured and serve as an informative tool for the able-bodied community. That’s when Wheels2Walking, a channel for educational and entertaining content, was conceived. Wheel:Life writer Betsy Bailey spoke with Corbett about his injuries, addictions, and what he's doing with Wheels2Walking.
When I first got hurt, I was diagnosed with an L2 incomplete injury, but I didn't have any mobility function. The first month or so, I got my right quad back, which meant that if I leaned to one side and held something, I could stand. Walking was done with braces, crutches, or a walker, and I couldn't go far or fast. It reached a point where I decided it wasn't very efficient for me to walk even though I could technically do it.
I was very frustrated because I had worked hard to regain the ability to walk, but I accepted the chair and moved on with life.
I went back to work and school, but unfortunately, I ended up getting tragically addicted to narcotic pain medications, study drugs, and amphetamines. That spiraled me into a terrible place. I was depressed. I lost my job, pushed all my friends and family away, and my health was horrible. I had given up on life and was very close to wanting to kill myself.
I ended up in drug rehab, and as I began to take care of myself by eating right, exercising, socializing, laughing, smiling, being happy, going to therapy, and stretching, I started to regain some mobility that I didn't think I'd ever get back. I spent a good 18 months to two years doing a combination of neuro recovery therapy, gym workouts, and eating and training like a bodybuilder. Today, I can walk around my house with no crutches or braces. If I go out and need to walk around or stand for any period of time, I bring my chair. If I'm going a short distance, for example from my car to sitting down at a restaurant, I'll take my crutch. I don't go far with my crutch, though, because it's really painful. I have mixed mobility, but I mostly use my chair.
The chair is like great freedom. I love it.
The two things that helped me learn the most after my injury were adaptive sports and traveling.
When you have that camaraderie with your teammates, you can talk about things you might not want to share with your doctor or friends.
You also see how other people manage things like their body, food, bowel, and bladder. When you're traveling, you stay in rooms together. You become so closely knit in the sense that on a Tuesday afternoon, you might go out and eat fast food, and then on Wednesday night, some of your teammates are having bowel issues, and you think, "Those are the guys that had cheeseburgers." So you learn not to eat greasy cheeseburgers.
With Wheels2Walking, my mission is to reach people who are newly injured to help them improve their quality of life and regain their independence. We try to include a combination of entertaining and educational videos. We like to show people the cool activities they can do in a wheelchair and teach them how to do those things as well. While I'm on camera, I'm teaching newly injured wheelchair users, but I'm also educating able-bodied folks who may not have had any prior interactions with someone in a wheelchair.
Even people who've been in a chair for a long time sometimes discover new ways of doing things. That's been my experience.
By hanging out with other wheelchair users, I come across different techniques and tricks.
Some of them are good. Some of them are terrible. Once, I saw a guy spit on his catheter for lubricant, and I thought that was a genius idea. Then I tried it and got a really bad UTI!
Interestingly, the most popular videos are about daily living, like how to go grocery shopping or fly on a plane. The video where I sat down on the Venice Beach boardwalk with a sign that said, “Ask me anything,” is pretty popular. We recently posted a video where I interview my girlfriend about what it's like to date a wheelchair user. That one has blown up. In the first two days, it surpassed the previous four videos in total views. My video called 10 Things I Wish People Knew about Wheelchair Users is pretty popular as well.
My most popular video by far is titled Why I Use a Wheelchair if I Can Walk. On Facebook, it has over 400,000 views.
The purpose of that video is to educate the able-bodied community about why some people who can walk choose to use a wheelchair.
We also subtly and playfully poke fun at people who point and stare at wheelchair users.
Wheels2Walking is a mission I truly believe in. It’s currently self-funded, and I'm treating it like a startup. At the moment, we're making videos, building brand authority, cultivating relationships with people, and garnering an online following. We’re also working on gaining video sponsorships. We’d like to partner with products, brands, and services that are helpful to the SCI and wheelchair community.
I'm not going to peddle multivitamins or yoga pants. I'm not interested in that because it doesn't add value to my audience.
Ads are frustrating when consuming media, so I only want to promote products and services that are relevant. This might be a new catheter I’ve tried, a useful wheelchair accessory, or other tools that make tasks more efficient for someone who uses a chair. It's just a matter of getting those companies on board because I have a highly engaged audience that's ready to bite.
You don't have to get your legs back in order to get your life back. Make sure that while you are rehabilitating your body, you also get back to your life. It doesn't have to be either/or. A lot of people will dedicate years to trying to get their body back but will do absolutely nothing to get their life back. I think it needs to be a balance. People have said to me, "I can't start life again until I'm walking." But that’s not true.
Legs are not required to live. That is what I'd love more people to hear.
Head over to the Wheel:Life Facebook page and comment on this post telling us what topic you’d like Wheels2Walking to cover next!
All information in this article was extracted from an interview with Richard Corbett or the various Wheels2Walking social media profiles.
About the Author
Betsy Bailey has a diverse background that includes experience in marketing research, business operations, travel and culinary writing, and playing volleyball professionally overseas.
Betsy has been writing for Wheel:Life since January of 2017 and thoroughly enjoys the process of getting to know her interviewees. She also teaches students learning English as a second language, speaks French fluently, and travels any chance she gets!