Six months ago, Hockessin resident Gary Johansson was confined to a wheel chair. Last Saturday, he finished a 5k.
When Gary Johansson’s feet crossed the finish line of the University of Delaware Nutrition and Dietetics Club 5k last Saturday, it was more than just the end of a race – it was a victory over life-altering adversity.
Johansson, 44, and his 11-year-old son, Brian, crossed the finish line together a little more than six months after an accident left the Hockessin resident confined to a wheel chair.
He doesn’t remember anything from August 27, but when he came to at Christiana Hospital he learned he had been hit by a car while riding his bike up Route 48 near Hercules Road, Johansson said.
An avid athlete and coach at the Hockessin Soccer Club, Johansson had decided to commute to work on his bicycle that summer, he recalled.
“When I got hit, that was the end of that for a while,” he said. “They basically reconstructed my right leg.”
Orthopedic surgeons installed a titanium rod in his leg to repair multiple compound fractures. He also broke both shoulder blades and tore an ACL is his left leg, but luckily Johansson had no injuries to his head or spine.
Confined to a wheel chair, he began his rehab at Wilmington Hospital and had to learn to do everything, from getting into bed to dressing himself, he said.
It was an emotional blow, he recalled, but his first thought was just to get better.
“I wanted to get better as soon as possible, so I started setting small goals for myself,” he said.
He came to Performance Physical Therapy in Hockessin in his wheelchair in October with the goal of being able to run by February.
Physical Therapist John Bradley wasted no time starting Johansson on an aggressive regimen of therapy, two hours a day, three days a week.
“It is a tedious process,” Bradley said. “Human nature being what it is, people want recovery to occur faster. But I never had to motivate Gary at all.”
Thanks to the support of his wife, Maureen, and three kids, Brian, Owen and Julia, and help from neighbors and friends, Johansson was able to concentrate on his therapy.
The going was very tough, he recalled, but he was determined to run by February and kept himself focused, as Bradley challenged him with harder and harder exercises.
“It was a lot of teamwork and back and forth between the two of us,” he said. “But nobody ever said I couldn’t do anything.”
Johansson ran on a treadmill for the first time in February and ended up running a full mile. Later that month, he started running on the road and quickly realized he’d be able to run a 5k sooner than anticipated.
“Every step hurt,” he said. “But I had a real sense of accomplishment I felt pretty good about.”
Johansson and Bradley ran the Nutrition and Dietetics Club 5k together, signifying the culmination of months of hard work from both of them.
In 23 years of work as a physical therapist, Bradley said he has never seen the kind of motivation Johansson showed through his entire recovery.
“I didn’t do it by myself,” Johansson said. “The strength of the community around me helped me all the way.”
And while his recovery was much quicker than anyone expected, Johansson isn’t quite ready to tackle a 10-mile run.
He’s going to continue working at Performance Physical Therapy, he said, and his goal now is to be able to do family activities he can’t do anymore, like playing soccer or basketball with his kids.
“It gets a little better each day,” he said, and with that mantra in mind, Johansson is ready for the challenges tomorrow will bring.