FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — For 33 years, Terry Labar has been looking up at life. Labar’s career as a U.S. Marine was derailed when a car slammed into him on a road in the Middle East.
“I just wanted to put this behind me and start a new chapter,” Labar said. “I never expected anything like this.”
The events on that day are fuzzy. Labar remembers, “just vaguely going up over the car and hitting my chin.”
The Virginia resident was paralyzed from the waist down, and he had difficulty adjusting to his new reality.
“I woke up the first day in Richmond and rolled over and saw the wheelchair next to the bed,” he said. “Then it dawned on me. That was for me.”
Traumatic injuries were nothing new to Labar. During the Vietnam War, Labar was rappelling out of a helicopter and fell about 90 feet and broke his back.
The New York native would make a full recovery and return to his unit.
“As a Marine, duty is everything,” Labar said.
The married father of two vowed not to be defeated.
“I think that is the best thing for anyone with a disability. Work with what you have … make the best of it and have a positive attitude,” Labar said.
Since his paralysis, Labar has competed in marathons, carried the Olympic torch in 1996 and worked 20 years with the FBI.
Labar’s loved ones marvel at his drive.
“He just tackles the day with the mentality that ‘I’m going to do this; I’m not going to let anything hold me back,’” says Labar’s youngest son Sean Labar.
Betsy Labar says physical limitations were no match for her husband.
“It was pretty tough,” she said. “He just stepped up and coached, soccer coached lacrosse, coached baseball.”
“Really I am just a regular guy who got injured,” Terry Labar said. “Tried raising a family — be as good as father and husband as I could.”
A few days ago, Labar took one giant leap. During physical therapy, he was fitted with a motorized exoskeleton.
“I remember standing up and I felt 10-feet tall,” Labar said. “It was really surreal, it really was.”
It would be the first time Labar would walk since 1984.
“I wanted to do it to help pave the way,” Labar said.
Watching his father walk was something his son, Sean, had never seen.
“It is sheer determination,” Sean Labar said. “That is my dad; that is him. That is T-Bar. That is what he does.”
The Marine veteran is training to use the device twice a week, which in and of itself is no small task.
“I’ve done four Marine Corps marathons and I was more tired doing that than running the marathons,” Labar said. “It’s practice but if I can do it, anyone can.”
“It was just unbelievable just to see him upright after all of those years,” Betsy Labar said.
Once he masters the technology, Labar will walk into his next chapter, carrying the same can-do spirit and will enjoy a new outlook on life. For him, there is no finish line.
“I wouldn’t change a thing,” he said. “I would not turn clock back. I’ve been a lucky person. I have been blessed with a great family. I just don’t think it could get any better than this.”
Once Labar is comfortable with his exoskeleton device at McGuire, Va., he will be able to use one at his home.