Jerod Nieder trains at UofL Frazier Rehab

Jerod Nieder trains at UofL Frazier Rehab.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Ten years ago, Jerod Nieder suffered a spinal chord injury that would forever change his life. Now, a new kind of physical therapy is helping him compete in the New York City Marathon.

When he was 29, Nieder went on a vacation with his family and planned to go for a dip in the ocean, not knowing his life would change in an instant. 

"I went running down the beach to go diving into the surf, and unfortunately, there was a sandbar there, and I broke my neck instantly," Nieder said. "I just remember telling myself, 'You better hold your breath.'"

Nieder said he knew right away what had happened because he couldn't move his body and had to rely on his brother, who was nearby, to pull him out of the water. 

After his injury, Nieder started treatment at Craig Hospital in Colorado, where he said he first heard about the epidural stimulator therapy being used at the University of Louisville.

"It took me four years after being registered in the program, and I got the call to come down here and do an interview," Nieder said. "Once I got my foot in the door, I wouldn't let them shut it. It's very hopeful. There's hope that you will get better here. They're doing research that's making differences in people's lives every day."

Nieder now has a medical device implanted in his body that allows him to stimulate nerves in his spinal chord to create movement using a wireless device. 

It's through this device that Nieder is able to train for the New York City Marathon using a hand cycle. 

Nieder has special gloves that attach to the bike that allow him to steer and move forward. He is able to shift gears by using his elbow and slows down by moving his arms in reverse. 

Nieder trains at UofL Frazier Rehab

"The training rides take hours, and we have to go somewhere on a dedicated path, because I can't be with cars and mixed traffic" he said. "So it is challenging."

Nieder said he first got the idea to compete in the marathon after watching his fiancé, Hanna Alcock, run it two years ago in support of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. The charity supports spinal chord treatment and research.  

"I was really jealous of what she was able to accomplish and I wanted to help the foundation out and be a part of it," he said. 

Alcock said she is happy to get to support Nieder in his own marathon and in everyday life as he takes strides to overcome other kinds of obstacles. 

"You look at him and you think there's a lot of things you can't do," Alcock said. "But he never focused on that. His personality is so unique because he's so driven."

Alcock said watching Nieder's improvements have been rewarding to see. 

"The small day-to-day impacts were huge. He works so hard," she said. "He's in this gym. He's at the CFW every single day of the week in addition to the PT that he does on a daily basis."

"I'm able to sit upright," Nieder added. "If I collapse over, I'm able to get myself up. My strength has gone through the roof. From bench pressing like 5 pounds to almost 30."

The couple said they are looking forward to traveling to New York next month and celebrating with a big party at their wedding in Louisville in December.

To support Nieder on his journey to compete in the NYC Marathon and fund spinal chord research, click here.

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