​​​Image of Robert MacDonald running
Robert MacDonald runs the Oasis Zoo Run 10K race in September in training for the Scotiabank Waterfront Half-Marathon on Sunday. (Photo: Courtesy Robert MacDonald)​

Robert MacDonald lay in his ICU bed receiving the news – at age 26 he had little chance of walking again after a vacation accident left him paralyzed from the waist down.

"It was a very dark time in my life," Robert reflected recently in a post on his blog.

But today, after nearly three years of progress he says was measured "in small muscle twitches," Robert is completing training to run the 2015 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon on Sunday.

It's a profile in motivation.

In December 2012, Robert was vacationing with friends in Mexico. He was locked out of his resort room so he climbed up to the third floor balcony. Suddenly, his shoulder dislocated and he fell 31 feet.

"I am lying on the ground not able to get up, move, or for that matter, feel my lower body. All I can think is, 'what have I done?'" Robert writes in a recent blog post for the Canada Running Series.

He landed on his side, breaking nine vertebrae, 11 ribs, and his scapula. He also punctured a lung.

Devastating impact

He arrived back in Toronto by air ambulance and was admitted to the ICU. He was paralyzed from his waist down. His medical team put Robert's chances of walking again at five per cent.

The news had a devastating impact on Robert and his family.

"But we definitely rallied together and the injury brought us closer as a family," says Robert. "They were very supportive and dropped everything to help me in my time of need."

Defying the odds at Toronto Rehab

Once he was medically stabilized, he transferred to Toronto Rehab's Spinal Cord Rehab Program at Lyndhurst Centre.

Roberts reflects that his prognosis still wasn't great and the Toronto Rehab staff built a therapy program for him that included a potential transition to life in a wheelchair.

Image of Robert working with therapist
Robert MacDonald works with his Toronto Rehab inpatient physiotherapist Josh Williams on relearning to stand up. (Photo: Courtesy Robert MacDonald)

He defied the odds.

"Progress wasn't made in huge strides, but in small muscle twitches," writes Robert in his blog.

One month into rehab, he stood with an aid for the first time.

Two months in, he walked with an aid for the first time.

After three months of rehab, he walked without aid or devices for the first time.

"The main reason Rob did as well as he did in rehab was his motivation," says Josh Williams, Robert's inpatient physiotherapist at Toronto Rehab. "He came to every session prepared to push himself.

"And, he pushed me to challenge him."

Josh adds that Robert's type of injury also gave him a potential to return to walking.

"When he arrived, he was showing recovery in his one leg and starting to get movement back in the other leg," explains Josh. "That coupled with the fact that he was young, active before the accident and had the surgery at a specialized spinal centre quickly after his injury, gave me reason to believe he'd get back to where he was before."

He was discharged from Toronto Rehab after three months as an inpatient and continued as an outpatient for six months. Today, he continues to attend private rehabilitation and he pushes his journey to recover even further.

Adding another milestone to his list of accomplishments

"It's a mental, physical and emotional challenge every day," says Robert.

Nearly three years since his accident he is hoping to add another milestone to his list of accomplishments.

"I hope to run 21.1km without stopping at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon."

Robert's fundraising efforts will support Toronto Rehab Foundation. Visit his page here

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