I met Chris Scott in person on March 21st, 2019. I was sitting in my lab, the Abilities Research Center (ARC) at Mount Sinai Hospital, nervous as hell and certain that I was going to fail him. You see, Chris used to be a skydiving instructor. His whole life had revolved around doing things that would make most of us freak out, and being p
I met Chris Scott in person on March 21st, 2019. I was sitting in my lab, the Abilities Research Center (ARC) at Mount Sinai Hospital, nervous as hell and certain that I was going to fail him. You see, Chris used to be a skydiving instructor. His whole life had revolved around doing things that would make most of us freak out, and being part of a close-knit team that lived life to the fullest. He had completed over 6,000 jumps and worked with some of the most talented skydivers in the world, but one day in 2017 the unthinkable happened: Chris was hit by a dust-devil on his descent during a tandem jump. Miraculously, he survived the fall, but in the process he sustained a spinal cord injury that left him completely paralyzed from the neck down. Since that day, Chris had been struggling to come to terms with the magnitude of what he had lost. My good friend, colleague and all-round superhero Angela Riccobono had been working with Chris to help him transition to life after spinal cord injury. She had connected me with Chris via email weeks earlier, asking if I could meet with him to talk about planning out the next phase of his life. This wasn’t something that I usually do, but Angela is one of those people that you never say ‘no’ to, and after getting to know Chris a little over email, I felt compelled to help.
I remember sitting across the table from Chris, marveling at how he had used his ingenuity to turn his chair into a powerful “command station” that enabled an incredible amount of independence despite his profound injury. He used head movements to effortlessly control his wheelchair, easily navigating through the tightest of spaces. He had custom designed a rig to house a tablet that allowed him to order transportation, communicate with friends and generally run his life. He interacted with the tablet using a stylus that he held in his mouth and controlled with remarkable precision. I had entered my meeting with Chris having no idea of what I could offer him but seeing his level of determination made me confident that we would find a project that was worthy of his talent. I started the meeting the same way I start many of my meetings with students or new hires. I asked him what he wanted to achieve from working with me. He mentioned that he missed two things: being part of a team and having a purpose. He did not know how to bring that back into his life, but he felt like showing up somewhere like the ARC on a regular basis might help him to find it. That made sense, and so we started to explore what he was currently interested in and whether I had any projects that could really draw him in. We went through a few different topics before we hit on gaming: Chris was *really* into gaming. I asked Chris to show me how he gamed (because last I checked gaming consoles were not designed for people who could not move their arms). He told me to rustle around in his backpack until I found his QuadStick: an ingenious device that allowed adaptive eSports athletes to control a console using movements of their mouth and head. He played me in a game of NBA2K on Xbox and I was blown away. I want to be clear here: Chris was not “good for someone with a spinal cord injury”, he was just damn good.
After he soundly kicked my ass at 2K, we started to discuss an idea: what if we built an eSports team made up entirely of quadriplegics? What if their mission was to show the world that eSports athletes with mobility differences can compete, and kick ass, on exactly the same gaming platforms as everybody else? What if a team of quads could one day face off against a team of able-bodied athletes in the Olympics? On that day in early 2019, the spark that would one day grow into the Quad Gods came to life. Sadly, just a few short months after that first meeting in 2019, we lost Chris. I will never forget how on the last day that I spoke with him, we had just finished an exciting team meeting – things were getting real for the Quad Gods. Chris was leaving the ARC for the day, and I was seeing him out when he stopped his chair and looked over his shoulder to ask me, “Do you really think we can do this? Can we really pull this off?” I didn’t skip a beat, but felt like I was making a promise, “You already are, man. This is for real.” He smiled and rode his chair out of the hospital. We’ve been working to keep that promise ever since.
Dr. David Putrino
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