It was 22:46 on Monday night when Simon Kindleysides crossed the finish line of the London Marathon, little more than 36 hours after setting off. Although Kindleysides was the last one to reach the line, but that didn’t really matter: he became the first paraplegic man to walk the 42 kilometers and 195 meters of the English Marathon. That was possible because of an exoskeleton suit (read below about the exoskeleton suit).
“There was no way I was going to give up. It was very tough, but I crushed it. Anything is possible,” Kindleysides said to The Brain Tumour Charity, an institution for which he led a fundraising campaign that raised about £ 9,000. "I was in so much pain, but I kept telling myself, 'You’ve got this far, you’ve got to finish it.' I was thinking about all the support I had received and all the money that had been donated, and that kept me going."
Although he did not receive a medal for completing the journey - the regulation only gives medals to those who cross the finish line on the same day as the start -, Simon did not come home empty-handed. At the end of the journey, admirers donated their own medals to him and the organizing institution of the London Marathon gave him the "Spirit of London" honor, dedicated to those who represent the "true spirit of the race". Former boxer Michael Watson, philanthropist Rev Chalke and Fajau Singh, the oldest man to complete the event at the age of 93, have been awarded the prize.
Who is Simon Kindleysides?
Until April 2013, Simon Kindleysides was a musician, having started his career at the age of five. As a singer, he was part of pop music groups, boy bands, and launched solo albums. However, in April 2013, Simon's life turned upside down. The talented singer was hospitalized after losing feeling and movement from the waist down.
Months in the hospital and numerous tests later, he was diagnosed with a neurological brain condition and a brain tumor, which would forever compromise some of his neurological and motor skills. "Up until that point life had been great. It’s been hard to accept and deal with my life-changing diagnosis,” he remembered. “I could stay in bed and feel sorry for myself, but why waste the life I've been given? I'm going to live mine to the fullest,” he added.
Today, at the age of 34, Simon lives in Norfolk, is married and has three daughters: Anya, 14, Corin, seven, and Lyra, 17 months. He works as a juror in the TV show "All Together Now" and is a champion of the people with brain tumor cause.
What is an exoskeleton suit and how does it change our life?
Simon completed the marathon wearing one of the most modern exo-suits, the ReWalk Personal System. This model is lighter than any other previous versions and custom-made for him. Recently, Simon started a new fundraising campaign to finally buy the tool. The exo-suit he wore is worth £ 80 thousand.
According to the manufacturing exo-suit company, the ReWalk Personal System is a battery-driven machine able to move waist and knees from the upper part of the body. Sensors identify motion in the trunk and arms and produce new movements to the legs, in order to adjust the user’s gravity center. When these movements repeatedly happen, they create a sequence similar to a walking pace.
In the 2014 World Cup, the inaugural kick was given with the help of an exoskeleton designed by Brazilian scientist Miguel Nicolelis. He is one of the main developers of the technology, in which he has been working on since 1999 and whose principle is thought to directly control the equipment.
Nicolelis heads the "Andar de novo (Walking Again)" project, which uses a special cap capable of identifying electrical activities in the brain using electroencephalography: when the patient thinks about walking, the neurological information is coded in computational information and sends the order to the artificial limbs, which then move.
In a paper published in Scientific Reports, the Brazilian scientist wrote that he managed to reverse-engineer the technology. This means that patients also regained voluntary motor control in key muscles below limb level, and neurological recovery was paralleled by the reemergence of lower limb motor imagery at cortical level. As a result, 50% of these patients were upgraded to an incomplete paraplegia classification.
We still don’t know to what extent exo-suits can help humans, but their use has already been tested both in the neurological recovery of patients, as a complementary equipment for heavy work, and even as a military tool.