Justin Smith: The Bionic Man Never Says Never

Justin Smith: The Bionic Man Never Says Never


Vital Stats

  • Player: Justin Smith
  • Company: Just Walk Bionics
  • Passion: Finding solutions to help others in need.
  • Contact: justwalkbionics.co.za ; +27 (0)71 462 6643

Nine years ago, Justin Smith was shot in the neck by a hijacker. A week later he was told he was an ‘incomplete’ quadriplegic, meaning he had some movement in his right arm, but would never walk again.

“They said ‘life in a wheelchair’ and I said ‘I don’t think so’,” recalls Smith. “There was nothing I could do about what had happened, but what counted was what I chose to do from then on.”

After spending several months in rehab, he read about a paraplegic man who had learnt to walk again. Smith started exercising, improving his upper body strength enormously, but still he could not move his legs.

After a lot of Internet research on his condition, in 2006 he came across Project Walk, a US organisation that offers a recovery programme for people with spinal cord injuries. He flew to the US and spent nine months there, training up to ten hours a week. He returned to South Africa and continued, until he was able to move his legs with the aid of a walker.

By this time, his vision was to open a local rehab centre similar to Project Walk, to serve others who had gone through what he had.

Thanks to the success of the family engineering business, he was able to launch Just Walk Bionics this year, a centre that gives people with spinal cord injuries and lower extremity paralysis the opportunity to experience freedom and mobility — to stand and walk again using a bionic suit that functions as an exoskeleton.

Developed by Ekso Bionics in the US, the suit is strapped over the user’s clothing so they can get up in a matter of minutes. Smith’s centre is the first on the continent to have such a unit.

“It’s mind-blowing to see a patient get into the suit for the first time and be given the possibility of walking again. The physical and psychological benefits are indescribable.”

Never say never

  • With the right goals and determination, you can achieve almost anything — you just need to believe in yourself.
  • It’s all about attitude: Can do, versus will do. As long as you think ‘will do’, it’s just about finding the right solution.
  • Solving a burning need will always lead to a good business.

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Monique Verduyn
Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.