How to help
What: Help Chris Walk Again 5K
When: 8:30 a.m. Saturday
Where: First Redeemer Church, 2100 Peachtree Pkwy.
When doctors told Paul Pickard his son would probably never walk again, he didn’t listen.
“There’s only one master physician that I care about, and that’s our Savior,” Pickard said. “He’s the only one who knows what this outcome’s going to be.”
A concerned father has kept his faith, and it led him to the answer of how to help his son.
Just two weeks before his Lambert High School graduation last May, Chris Pickard’s spinal cord was severely injured in a car accident, leaving him unable to use his hands, body or legs.
The tear was incomplete, however, which left hope that 18-year-old Pickard could walk again someday with physical rehabilitation.
After several weeks at the Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta, Pickard traveled to California to begin an intense, exercise-based recovery program called Project Walk.
The family thought he would stay on the West Coast for six months, and they would come to visit.
They made it seven weeks.
“Christopher was adamant about not going back,” his dad said. “He just missed his friends and family so much because he hadn’t been home since his accident.”
Paul Pickard wanted his son to finish the six months, but he couldn’t convince him.
While flying home with an empty seat next to him, the answer came to Paul Pickard, and he created Project Walk-Atlanta.
“It really wasn’t something that I wanted to take on, but that message was real clear to me then,” he said. “This is for Christopher. We’re dedicated to Christopher, and now we’re going to be able to help a lot of other people.”
The facility in southwest Forsyth still has that new smell and shiny exercise equipment on the floor.
Though dozens plan to enter the Atlanta program, Pickard has been the only one to take sessions there so far, often spending a few hours each day with his trainer, Tony Davenport.
Davenport has been working with Pickard since September.
The training employs the Dardzinski Method, which seeks to reactive the body’s nervous system, initiate muscle contractions and improve movement.
During a recent session, Davenport employed a vibration technique with Pickard.
“I can feel his leg spasm when I have my hand on his foot,” he said, noting that’s a positive sign.
Davenport has seen much improvement in Pickard since September, including his strength, a major part of recovery.
Pickard is no stranger to working out and working hard.
He’d been an athlete for most of his life, playing football since age 6 through high school.
“He had his own mind, and his own ways of doing things,” Paul Pickard said, adding that it will be a benefit to him. “You have to be determined and strong-minded to get through this type of recovery. This is not a week or a month, it’s a lifetime.”
Pickard’s story inspired a mother at First Redeemer Church, where his family has attended for about a decade.
Debbie Yancey said she knew she wanted to do something to help him walk again.
“He was a fully-functional 18-year-old guy, and today he’s having to work really, really hard for basic functions people take for granted every day,” she said.
A newer member of the church, Yancey didn’t know the Pickard family personally, but she got his mother’s phone number and called with an idea.
Yancey has been organizing a 5K fundraiser at the church ever since.
The Saturday race, which she hopes will become an inaugural tradition, follows the tagline: “Run so Chris can walk.”
Yancey said her personal inspiration for the cause comes from her daughter.
Now 16, Yancey’s daughter suffered multiple broken bones and internal injuries after falling more than 30 feet from a ropes course about three years ago.
“Only by the grace of God, she’s alive and functioning,” Yancey said.
She knows what it’s like to undergo months of physical rehabilitation, both for child and parents.
Programs like Project Walk aren’t covered by insurance, and the cost is high.
But the results have the potential to be amazing.
The Project Walk logo shows a silhouette of the program’s first client holding his wheelchair above his head.
Others who were also told they would never walk again have also been successful.
“For Paul to have the vision to bring Project Walk to this community, it has to be therapeutic,” Yancey said. “You have to know that this is the life work that you’d been given,” she said, turning to Paul Pickard.
Formerly a real estate investor, Paul Pickard said he faced hard times when the market collapsed.
“I’ve been out of work for a long time and kind of doing whatever I could,” he said. “I really think God was cleaning my plate for this, in a way. It’s funny how things line up.”