SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- A freak accident on the first day of 2021 left a San Diego man unable to move or feel anything below his shoulders, but like his movie hero Rocky Balboa, Chase Friedman fought back and is inspiring thousands with a feat that even had Sylvester Stallone calling him “the real Rocky.”
“Here we go! Here we go!” Exclaims one of hundreds of supporters gathered on the first day of spring to see Friedman climb the steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, also known as the famed "Rocky steps."
“I thought, what if, before I leave Philadelphia,” said Friedman, “I am able to climb up those steps? I toyed with the idea, I told a couple of friends, and they're like, ‘That's a really good idea.’”
Friedman had gone to Phiadelphia to celebrate New Year’s Eve with friends, but the morning after, he fell while in the bathroom.
“When I woke up, I couldn't move or feel anything under my shoulders. It was terrifying,” Friedman said.
He doesn't remember exactly what happened, but he believes when stepping into the restroom, he slipped or tripped, hitting his head on a sink.
“My head snapped back,” said Friedman, “and the vertebrae smashed into each other causing bleeding and pressure.”
In those initial hours, Friedman said he believed he was paralyzed for life and didn’t want to live. But doctors were able to stabilize his spine and discovered it was not completely broken.
“I was told I have a chance to recover, and I'm going to do everything I can to go back to the way life was before,” Friedman told ABC 10News.
That effort got underway in Philadelphia, working closely with doctors and physical therapists at the Magee Rehabilitation Hospital.
Friedman was determined but going through a range of emotions.
“It's mental warfare because, at one point, you're like, ‘Look, the doctors are so impressed with your recovery, you're doing great.’ But, at the same time, I'm not the same me I used to be,” he said.
Friedman began documenting his journey on Instagram, as he focused on reconnecting with his legs, arms and hands.
Every new movement was a victory, and sometimes, as Friedman tells with a smile, an opportunity for a little mischief.
“So, when I was able to give the middle finger for the first time, I made a funny video of me flipping everybody off,” Friedman said.
The gesture went viral, as tens of thousands are supportive and inspired, including even one of Friedman’s larger-than-life heroes.
“The one I did about the ‘Rocky steps,’ it reached Sylvester Stallone. And he called me the ‘real life Rocky,’” said Friedman.
And just like Rocky, Friedman has some sequels in mind.
“I have a goal next year to run a marathon. But that's looking really far out. The next step is just every day. Keep pushing. Try to stay positive, hanging with friends, hanging with family. And just more and more therapy,” he said.
Friedman is now continuing his recovery with family in San Diego. While the future extent of his recovery is unknown, Friedman said he's been told by doctors there's usually a window of one year for improvement from his type of injury.
Friedman said he'll battle well beyond that if necessary.