A man who was quadriplegic and told he may “never walk again” has been hailed by actor Sylvester Stallone as a “real-life Rocky” after he made a miraculous recovery to climb the 72 famous steps from the blockbuster film.
After celebrating the start of 2021 at a New Year’s Eve party, Chase Friedman, 26, slipped in his friend’s bathroom, crashed head-first into the sink and lost all feeling below his shoulders in the freak accident.
The former talent manager from Los Angeles, California, USA was warned he would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, but set himself three laddish rehabilitation goals – to move his hand so he could flip the finger, regain the use of his legs so he could “kick my mate in the balls”, and ultimately climb the Rocky steps.
And against all odds, after spending four months in intensive physiotherapy, he had learned to walk again by April 2021.
Incredibly, Chase, who is single, is now able to walk “like normal” 21 months since the accident and even hopes to run a 5k race.
He said: “When I was in hospital, they said I would be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. It was terrifying, but there was a lot of uncertainty as well.”
“So I clung on to that. The doctors said they didn’t know if I’d walk again, but to me it meant they didn’t know I couldn’t. I didn’t want to just be a head for the rest of my life.
“I set myself three goals – I wanted to be able to flip someone off with my middle finger, I wanted to walk up the Rocky steps at the entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and I wanted to kick my mate in the balls.
“And in four months I was able to do all three – which was the most amazing feeling. Because no one believed I could, except for me.
“Sylvester Stallone even called me a real-life Rocky on his Instagram.”
After spending most of 2020 cooped up in his California apartment during the Covid lockdowns, Chase decided to fly out to Philadelphia to see a friend who had invited him to a New Year’s party.
But the celebration quickly turned to disaster on the morning of January 1, 2021 when he woke up and slipped on his way to brush his teeth, knocking his head straight into the sink.
He was quickly rushed to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, where an MRI scan revealed he had injured his spinal cord from the C4 to C7 cervical vertebrae – near the top of his spine.
Chase recalled: “My face was banged up and my nose was bleeding. I remember trying to get up from the ground but my body wouldn’t budge.
“I couldn’t feel anything in my skin, but weirdly enough I could feel a sensation in my muscles underneath.
“They sat me down and told me I was paralysed and they didn’t know what was going to happen.”
The following day, Chase underwent an eight-hour spinal fusion surgery which involved putting 10 screws into his neck in a bid to stabilise his back.
But while the first 36 hours in hospital were “pure fear” for the young professional, he was determined to remain positive, and said he immediately focused on getting better.
He said: “I stayed incredibly positive, and felt lucky to be alive.
“I wanted to get my body to be the best it could possibly be.”
After two weeks he was moved to Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia, a specialist centre for spinal cord injuries, where he began his rigorous rehabilitation.
But the future still looked difficult for Chase, who began looking at electric wheelchairs as medics still didn’t believe he would be able to walk.
He said: “When I got to Magee, we started looking at electric wheelchairs, and eventually bought a manual one because I felt like I was going to get better. I knew I would.”
Each day Chase would try to lift his leg and was aided by a vector machine – a harness that strapped him to the ceiling – where he would either try to move his legs or have a physiotherapist move his legs to remind the body of what it’s like to walk.
Physiotherapists told him his recovery was remarkable, he said, and by the end of February he was able to walk a couple of steps unaided for the first time.
He started practising steps each day from that point on in a bid to climb up the 72 steps made famous from the Rocky films, and on March 20 he made it up.
Chase said: “It was 72 steps. I walked up all of them and it was the most incredible experience of my life.
“My physiotherapists were all pretty mind blown. They said it was incredibly rare for someone to recover this way.
“When I got to the top, I felt like I had completed a challenge everyone thought was impossible except for me.
“But I knew in my heart I was going to be able to do it.”
Posting his recovery on TikTok, where he has amassed 350K followers, Chase’s funny approach to his tragic situation went viral amassing millions of views and even catching the attention of Sylvester Stallone himself.
His videos made it to various social media channels, eventually being seen by Arnold Schwarzenegger who then showed his mate Sylvester the video.
An impressed Sylvester posted on Instagram: “This young man sprit is incredible! This is a real life Rocky…Keep punching and running!”
And in April 2021, after returning to Los Angeles, Chase was able to complete his final goal – kick his best pal Dan Sipher, 26, a real estate agent, in the testicles.
Chase said: “My friend had joked that I needed to get well so I could kick him in the balls, but I don’t think he expected me to recover so quickly.”
Chase continued attending rehab until November 2021 when he returned to work, but he has since quit his job as he realised that sitting down for nine hours a day was limiting his progress.
After going to the Coachella music festival in California in April 2022, where he took 20,000 steps to cover a staggering seven miles each day, he realised he could still achieve more.
And he has now set his sights on jogging and then running a 5k race.
He said: “I have been walking five miles a day and I’m improving every day and my walk is almost perfect.
“Most people can’t even tell from my walk that I went through this.
“I am grateful every day of all the progress, and I feel so lucky.”
He added: “This journey has been incredibly difficult, but I know my story has reached a lot of people and I feel grateful that I have been able to help many people in similar situations.
“My goal today is to be able to jog. I can manage around 30 feet before I get a muscle spasm.
“I want to eventually run a 5k.”
You can follow Chase’s journey on TikTok @chasegetsbetter or Instagram @chaseunfiltered.