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Paralyzed British Surfer Seeks Bionic Legs

June 18, 2016

Bruno Hansen, ISA Adaptive Surf Champion, hopes new tech will help him stand upright after 17 years in a wheelchair.

Before he was paralysed after being a victim in a carjacking-gone-awry, Bruno Hansen loved the ocean. Surfing, sailing, fishing – anything in the water, Hansen lived for it. But the robbery attempt and resulting car wreck left him confined to a wheelchair, which hindered him from his athletic hobbies of the past and led him to contemplate suicide.

Since those dark days, however, Hansen has adapted to a life on wheels. He’s sailed across the Indian Ocean on a catamaran with only one other shipmate; he has survived a tsunami at sea alone; and he is the reigning ISA World Adaptive Surfing Champion.

But Hansen is tired of sitting. Nearly 20 years since his accident, the British-born adventurer, who has been dubbed “Indiana Jones on wheels,” wants to trade his chair for a pair of bionic legs. The only thing stopping him from becoming a semi-robot? A mere £70,000 (or $100k). To bear the cost of the pricey mechanical supplements, Hansen has set up a GoFundMe account.

And instead of the traditional gimcrackery given to pledge donors – like t-shirts or autographed photos – Hansen has decided to test his mettle with challenges, or “earn” his new legs. The first venture is a 10-day sailing trip from Washington to Alaska, which Hansen plans to tackle with other paraplegics (a feat never been done before). And then he plans on defending his title as World Adaptive Surf Champion in the prone division.

At the onset of his life in a chair, Hansen’s forced retirement from ocean sports was like a death sentence. So much so that after his crippling accident, at the age of 28, the British waterman attempted to take his own life. Feeling forsaken by his own unfortunate circumstance, Hansen thrust his body into the water, opting to end it all in the place where he had lived the most.

“I had my plan and no one was going to stop me from it,” Hansen said. “My plan was to drown. So I paddled out to where there were no waves, I threw myself off the board and thought I would just sink to the bottom. But I didn’t.”Instead, Hansen was swept up by a freak wave, which he rode in prone position all the way to shore. While it wasn’t the same feeling as standing, it was enough to restore his spirit.

“He connected with the ocean again on a different level and something rebooted inside of his system,” the GoFundMe reads. “After countless doctors told him that he couldn’t do the things he used to do, he defied all odds (with the help of his somewhat stubborn nature).”

Since conquering most aspects of normal life, and some extreme pursuits as well, Hansen has arrived at a new goal – the bionic exoskeleton. He got to test-drive the system recently, taking his first steps in 17 years. As of now, Hansen is about one-third of the way towards raising the money to buy a pair. And while the bionic legs won’t allow him to surf upright, the humble practice of walking (partially) on his own is enough.

“I can only imagine what it would be like to be able to be around people,” Hansen said. “And to just have a conversation at the same eye level.”

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