Paralyzed after warehouse collapse, Paul Gait says it’s business as usual
Friday, January 20, 2023 | Matt DaSilva | Fuel
Paul Gait Gait Lacrosse Industry
PHOTOS COURTESY OF GAIT LACROSSE
IF PAUL WALK SOUNDS PERSONAL, that’s because he just finished another frustrating business call. It has nothing to do with the fact that he can’t move his legs.
Gait, 55, made that clear during an hour-long interview Thursday. He was on the road, headed to the USA Lacrosse Convention, just as he has every year since he began designing and manufacturing lacrosse gear in 1995.
The fact that he is only two months removed from a cataclysmic fall that left him unconscious and paralyzed from the waist down has no bearing on this trip to Baltimore.
Gait wants to talk things over at LaxCon, a haven for lacrosse technicians and industry leaders. But the former Syracuse great and twin brother of current Orange coach Gary Gait understands most people want to know what happened to him on Nov. 3.
So here it is.
Gait was putting the finishing touches on the boat facility he built for Gait Lacrosse in Altamont, N.Y., the last building constructed on the 60-acre property he bought in 2017. His dream, he told the Altamont Enterprise at the time, was to be able to walk his dogs to work and to struggle until night. He has already built a house, a workshop and an office with a showroom for his company. He did most of the work himself.
While unrolling the insulation in the attic, Gait said, he noticed a bow in the engineered wood ceiling beneath his feet. He stood up on one beam and grabbed the other above his head with his left hand. He stretched out his right leg to try the ceiling panel, which fell away as soon as he put his foot on it.
Gait lost his grip, slipped and hit his head on the grate in front of him, knocking him unconscious. It pitched 20 feet, crashed into a sawhorse, and landed on the cement.
Gait suffered a laceration to his head, six broken ribs and three broken vertebrae in his upper back. He had spinal fusion surgery that night at Albany Medical Center. Then the doctors told him that the damage to the spinal cord was irreparable.
“At this point, they’re calling it permanent,” Gait said. “Paraplegic.”
Gait was surprisingly candid about the prospect of never walking again and spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
“You adapt like anything else,” he said. “It’s like losing a game. Once you lose, you have to figure out how to win again. I have to figure out how to do all the things I used to do, but from a wheelchair instead of standing.”
After Gait Lacrosse issued statements on Nov. 4 and Nov. 18 regarding Gait’s accident and rehabilitation, he received hundreds of calls, emails and text messages.
“Almost all the same, almost all a little unrealistic,” he said.
If anyone could recover from these injuries, they insisted, it would be one of the greatest lacrosse players of all time.
A three-time All-American and NCAA first-team selection at Syracuse from 1988-1990, Gait played on four Canadian national teams, made the National Lacrosse League’s All-Pro team 11 times and was the MVP of the 2001 Major League Lacrosse Championship. He won NLL MVP honors the following year, then retired at age 35 due to early onset osteoarthritis in his back, ankles and elbows.
Although Gait often operated in his brother’s shadow, they were inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame together in 2005. They are now business partners.
“No one knows that I will never walk again. The truth is the truth. I think it’s better for people to know,” Gait said. “Most of my friends say that if anyone walks again, it will be me. I would like to, but I don’t think so.”
Hod began to gain sensation in the abdomen and back, although the external muscles were still paralyzed. His doctors expect all upper body functions to return to normal with continued rehabilitation and treatment. They are less optimistic about his lower body.
“You have to have a sign, some kind of hope if you’re going to be one in a million and get out of this. You have to be able to move a toe or something,” he said. “Maybe I’ll be one of those guys who makes progress and gets lucky. If not, my life will still be pretty damn good.”
Gait considers himself lucky to have the financial means and access to equipment to make a somewhat seamless transition to life in a wheelchair. He shared a room at Albany Medical Center with four stroke victims, three of whom were diabetics who had had their feet amputated but could not afford prosthetics. They were fired anyway.
Gait said he wants to start a foundation to supply newly disabled people with equipment while their insurance claims are being processed — which can take two to three months, he said.
Still built like an ox, Gait works out five days a week on a manual exercise bike. It takes more time to prepare in the morning. What used to take 20 minutes now takes two hours. And he began to notice how few public places were designated for people in wheelchairs.
Gait planned to start construction on the new boathouse in June. Now, he said, he’ll just have to be accessible. He drives a Tesla that he can control manually.
“The only thing I will lose is riding a motorcycle,” he said. “You could get a three-wheeler, but I’m not sure that’s something I’d be enthusiastic about. I will definitely try one.”
Otherwise, Gait said, it really is business as usual. In addition to redesigning the D stroke, which was recently ruled illegal by the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Rules Committee, his company is developing new heads for faceoffs and goalies. He didn’t think much of wheelchair lacrosse. He’s interested in learning more about USA Wheelchair Lacrosse — an opportunity he’ll get this weekend at LaxCon — but doesn’t plan on suiting up any time soon.
“I can tell you my playing days are over,” he said, saying it was a mistake to come out of retirement for five games with the NLL’s Colorado Mammoth in 2005. “I haven’t picked up a bat and played in almost 20 years. I was fine with it then and still am.”
Asked what he would like to say to the lacrosse community, Gait replied, “That my life will continue to be as enjoyable as it would be if I could walk. I will live it to the fullest and have as much fun and success as I would have. What more could you want at 55? Good friends, lots of fun, success in business, a good family — there’s not much more to it.”