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In a split second a man's life changed forever - 'I can't believe I just did this to my mother'

The New Orleans native wants to bring the exercise that has helped him back to his hometown, where thousands could use it.

Going to a gym to work out is easy for most, but more than 300,000 people in Louisiana have some form of disability when it comes to walking and moving.
Tens of thousands live in the New Orleans area.  

One young man, whose life changed in a split second, wants to build a special gym for them.

"As I was praying, I remember, I didn't make it to the end of the prayer," said Mark Raymond.

Three years ago on The 4th of July, Raymond was boating with friends. He dove into a shallow part of Lake Pontchartrain and shattered the vertebrae in his neck.

He was face down in the water.
"My first thought, 'Oh my God, I can't believe I just did this to my mother,' he said. "And my second thought was, 'God, please let one of my friends realize that I'm here and need help.'"

Friends saved him, but the damage was devastating.

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Even years after the accident, the former tennis player and runner couldn't do challenging exercise. That's when he found a special gym in California.

"This place changed my life," Raymond said. "The first day I rode in, everybody spoke to me. I look around, and nobody's in wheelchairs. Everybody's walking, working out, laughing, talking. It was just a really uplifting environment."

The environment inspired his home gym, with special equipment that helps him do things he never thought possible.  

Now, through Split Second Foundation that he started, Raymond wants to open a special gym to help thousands like him.  

"I've already got somebody lined up with some equipment for us. We've already started talking about partnerships with local hospital foundations," he said.

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He asked his physician, Dr. Andrea Toomer, to be on the board of directors.

Toomer, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at the Culicchia Neurological Clinic who is also in the LSUHSC Department of Neurosurgery, said exercise is key for physically disabled people, for strength, independence, function and emotional well-being. 

"I've seen it across the board with all of my patients," Toomer said. "Ones who get out there exercise, go to gyms, it's helping them socially because they are out with other people. It's helping their demeanor and psyche, because they can see what they're accomplishing."

The cost of not doing regular exercise can be overwhelming, the doctor said. 

"There's a lot of studies showing that patients who have had a spinal cord injury are at higher risk for having cardiovascular disease, so higher risk of having heart attacks and strokes, because they're not getting that exercise benefit for their body. We need to change that," Toomer said. 

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But for now, Raymond is hoping the New Orleans community will rally behind his dream. 

The Split Second Foundation is having a fundraiser called 'Dependence Day' at 8 p.m. June 28 at Generations Hall. To donate, click here.