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Bergenfield Quadriplegic Stands Strong 18 Years After Freak Accident

Lauren LaPorta with trainer Erica Little at Retro Fitness of Hackensack.
Lauren LaPorta with trainer Erica Little at Retro Fitness of Hackensack. Photo Credit: Cecilia Levine

Lauren LaPorta of Butler isn't even on the treadmill and she's already shaking.

The 30-year-old had just hoisted herself out of her motorized wheelchair and ever-so slowly climbed the stairs up to the second level of Retro Fitness of Hackensack.

All that was left for her to do was step onto the machine.

Her legs are quivering. Her back is hunched. She doesn't know if she's going to make it this time.

"I don't know what's wrong with me today," said LaPorta, several minutes into her second failed attempt at stepping onto the belt.

While such a setback would seem minor considering how far she has come, LaPorta -- a Bergenfield native -- was still frustrated. She became a quadriplegic in July 2000 after shattering her C5 spinal segment diving into her backyard pool.

LaPorta feels no self-pity, but she also can be her own toughest critic. The thought of not walking on the treadmill wasn’t one she could easily accept, especially after all the progress she’s made since Summer 2016, when she began working with personal trainer Erica Little.

And eventually, it happened. She makes sure it does -- every time.

"She gave me hope again," LaPorta said of Little. "A newfound motivation."

The pair met at Holy Name Medical Center -- LaPorta in physical therapy and Little an aid -- during what was one of the lowest points for LaPorta since the accident.

She had put on weight and longed for the days when she could run up and down the basketball court. Sweat -- an ability she'd lost due to an interruption of her nervous system -- and the work that accompanied it.

They started almost immediately and LaPorta was up and walking within weeks. Little insists LaPorta has long underestimated her own strength. LaPorta, however, said Little has been the difference.

"I really think I got hurt on purpose," said LaPorta, a guidance counselor at Bergenfield High School.  "I think I've been going through what I have been to help certain people.”

LaPorta has since learned how to train independently and is a friendly, familiar face at Retro Fitness of Hackensack.

She often pushes the weight sled on the turf, honing her walking skills when she doesn't have someone there to help her on and off the treadmill. She zips around the weight room in her wheelchair, each week increasing the load on the machines.

LaPorta makes no excuses for herself and has been using her injury to help her find her purpose: Inspiring her students.

Although she doesn't count on ever being able to walk or run the way she used to, she feels blessed to be where she is now -- enjoying the journey and inspiring others along the way.

"I physically look imperfect," she said. "They know I'm going to get on their level and really listen to them. I can relate to them."

"It's thrilling to have these workouts where I'm beaming with excitement because I was physically able to do something I never thought I'd be able to do again.

"I've learned the true meaning of patience and you need to find new ways to motivate yourself. It's never going to be easy, but I have definitely learned how precious life is."

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