INDIANAPOLIS – When race fans were asked to stand during the singing of the national anthem Sunday, paralyzed veteran Dan Rose was one of them thanks to a wearable robot.
Rose, an Army veteran, lost his ability to walk in the spring of 2011 while serving in Afghanistan.
“The doctor saw the damage to the spinal cord and told me that I wasn’t going to walk again,” said Rose.
That was Rose’s story for the next three years. His injuries kept him confined to a life in a wheelchair.
In 2014, his doctors came across an exoskeleton suit that got him on his feet again. The suit is a wearable robot, called an EksoGT and made by Ekso Bionics.
Rose stood for the playing of The Star-Spangled Banner in the starting grid, next to driver Graham Rahal. One of Rahal’s sponsors is United Rentals, which has been raising money for a non-profit called SoldierStrong.
The organization uses the funds to give the exoskeleton to VA hospitals across the country for therapy with paralyzed veterans.
Standing before the start of the Indianapolis 500 was pretty special for Rose. “Right after I was injured, I’d go to things and it’d be like, ‘please stand for the national anthem,’ and I’d think, I wish I could do that,” he said. “To do that on a huge occasion like today is awesome.”
Last year, United Rentals and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing partners up for the Turns for Troops program and raised over $100,000 for SoldierStrong. The goal is to raise more money in 2017. Every lap that Rahal completed at the Indianapolis 500 and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis raised another $100 for the non-profit.
“For that person to have the ability, even if it’s just for four hours, to stand up again and stand up right, and take a few steps that can be life changing,” said Stephanie Turzanski, the development director for SoldierStrong.
Roughly 15 percent of United Rentals’ workforce is made up of veterans.
“If we can get them more suits out there, more money to help more vets, it just does the right thing for those who have served us,” said Chris Hummel, a senior vice president and chief marketing officer at United Rentals. “They’ve protected us and come back injured. It’s the right thing to do.”