V.J. Barry’s ongoing recovery to regain the use of his hands and legs is nothing short of a miracle. In 2000, Barry suffered a C6 spinal cord injury. He crashed in a Ski Cross, a race where four people ski down a run with obstacles and jumps. The accident left him paralyzed from the neck down, and he was diagnosed as a tetriplegic.
Referring to using his hands, now he can say, “There’s no one else in the world that can do this. Typically, the heart is the only muscle or organ that works on its own below the injury,” says V.J. After the accident, his breathing was affected, and he couldn’t cough or sneeze. Though he had some mobility in his hands, he couldn’t tear a tissue because it would slip out of his fingers. With the majority of people who have C6 level breaks, the tendons tighten and they can’t open their hands enough to use them. Fortunately, his hands were opened. He could move his arms but couldn’t pick anything up or even raise a one-pound weight above his head.
He left the hospital in Denver, where he says the policies were “old school,” and came to Health South in Utah. The occupational therapist there believed he could regain the use of his hands and arms. The hospital had a new machine that formulated exercises which simulated turning doorknobs and holding and twisting a screwdriver, or squeezing objects to increase strength and flexibility. Four months into his recovery, V.J started writing again.
One day he saw video of a friend’s uncle, an upside-down quad—meaning his arms were paralyzed, but he had some mobility in his legs—practicing walking across the gym in a program called Project Walk. Inspired, V.J. moved to California and became the second person to participate in Project Walk with a personal trainer.
His training involves stretching which gives him more control. “Energy flows when the body is in the correct positions,” he says. He also does breathing exercises, acupuncture, and meditation. He inhales deeply to the point of pain then slowly exhales. This relaxes the muscles and makes the spine more flexible.
“I get better every day,” he says. He walks on the treadmill, in water, or with arm braces, and does the elliptical machine for twenty minutes a day. He not only works out five days a week in the gym for three hours, but he also meditates five hours a day, which is probably why he exudes such an air of infectious serenity. Eating healthy makes a difference, too. His trainer, Casey Payzant, had him drink green drinks every day.
His biggest challenge is the pain. One way he copes is by writing poetry and songs. The lyrics are deep and poignant. “Some of them are so deep I don’t even get them myself,” he says with a laugh.
Positive thinking has been a big help. People try to box you in and tell you what you can and can’t do, but with God your potential is much greater. “How do you use your mind so your mind doesn’t use you?” he asks. His answer is that he tries to lift himself by lifting others. “If I give them something positive they have no choice but to give back positive energy.”
“You are limitless,” he says and he is an incredible example of that. He plans to ski again in the near future, maybe this year. His brother Scott, who works with him as a partner at Viice Skis making custom skis, says V.J. will ski this year even if Scott has to put him in a sit bucket and send him down the mountain.