Reaching for a Dream, One Step at a Time 4

Amanda Boxtel’s Dance on Wheels

Amanda Boxtel could be seen as a dreamer or as an inspiration. To know Amanda is to know what it means to dream big and live big. On February 27, 1992 a freak skiing accident rendered her a paraplegic. Two weeks later, as she lay in a hospital bed, a young doctor strode into her room and spoke words that became her motivation: “Amanda, you’ll never walk again.”

At the age of 24 years young, Boxtel’s life became, as she put it, “a dance on wheels.” Amanda’s outlook on life widened and the world became her oyster. She even signed up for Roaring Fork Leadership’s annual program, a course that teaches personal and professional leadership skills. Boxtel graduated in the Class of 2000, adding civic leadership to the list of achievements that have been steps along her odyssey over the last couple decades.

Boxtel became an advocate for people with disabilities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every five adults in the U.S. has a disability. Boxtel learned quickly that she wasn’t alone, and hope became her strength. She learned firsthand how important it is for the neuro-muscular system to stay active, and her life is now about finding ways to improve the lives of individuals. “After more than two decades of paralysis and a journey across continents, my pursuit has been one of spirit-mind-body transformation,” she said.

Boxtel’s strength and hope opened up a world that lead her to discover the most complex neuro-prosthetic ever imagined—the bionic exoskeleton suit. Along the way, she tried other adaptive technologies. “Adaptive technology enables me to learn how to downhill ski again, rock climb and even handcycle, but nothing enabled me to learn how to walk again until now,” she said during a TED talk in 2011.

After the injury, Amanda co-founded Challenge Aspen, a non-profit that enables individuals with disabilities to realize their potential through recreation in the Rocky Mountains.

On October 19, 2015, Boxtel officially launched Able Bionics U.S.A., a program funded by the Bridging Bionics Foundation. Located in Aspen, this local program is designed to help individuals who have mobility impairments to regain their mobility with the assistance of a Galileo neuro-muscular tilt table and a bionic exoskeleton suit. “The goal of our program is to provide access to this cutting-edge technology, which is typically cost-prohibitive, to enhance neuro-recovery and quality of life for individuals who have neurological disorders or mobility impairments,” she said.

For the first time in the history of assisted movement, there is a mobility option beyond standard wheelchairs and unpowered orthotics: the bionic exoskeleton suit. Amanda was the first parapalegic woman to walk in Ekso™—a bionic exoskeleton.

Amanda now travels the world advocating for people with disabilities; she raises funds to help those who suffer from a musculoskeletal challenge to gain freedom of mobility. Among her many talents, she is a passionate and dynamic motivational speaker who captivates audiences with her stories. She weaves in the valuable lessons she has learned along the way and warms their hearts with laughter and compassion.

“One of the most fulfilling aspects of this entire initiative,” says Boxtel, “is to see that locals from the Roaring Fork Valley participate for next-to-nothing. Our program is 100 percent fully funded through community support and donations to the Bridging Bionics Foundation.”

“We are made for mobility,” Boxtel reflects. “The longer a person sits, the greater the risk for joint contractures, muscle atrophy, osteoporosis and pressure sores. Over time, limited mobility can be socially isolating too. My experiences have convinced me that having the opportunity to regain mobility and walk should be seen as a human right.”

“I’ve never stopped dreaming about walking again,” she says.  “I am making my dream my reality, one baby step at a time.”