New Orleans man creates gym for amputees, quadriplegics

Mark Raymond Jr., who broke his neck in a diving accident, runs a health club for people living with disabilities in New Orleans.

New Orleans man creates gym for amputees, quadriplegics
Scripps News

For amputees and wheelchair-bound people, the world can be a little complicated. Life changed for many of these people in a split second after accidents.

Now a New Orleans man is trying to give them a safe space to work on their minds, bodies, and souls.

In 2016, Mark Raymond Jr.’s world flipped upside down.

"My life changed in a split second after my diving accident," said Raymond.

Raymond says he’s been committed to fighting for justice and equity his whole life. It's something that has been ingrained in him since childhood.

But after he broke his neck diving off a friend’s boat, he found a new purpose and mission.

"I had to grapple with this new life right along that journey. I found how under-resourced the disabled community is," said Raymond.

He opened a first-of-its-kind gym for amputees and stroke victims in New Orleans, using specially designed equipment and therapy programs.

Split Second Foundation and then Split-Second Fitness were born out of Raymond’s own struggles and the lack of fitness programs out there for people like him.

"Definitely a lack of fitness spaces for people to go and continue rehab after they got discharged from outpatient therapy," said Raymond.

The fight to get representation for invisible disabilities
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It's not just about being physically stronger. Raymond says strengthening the mind is just as important.

Mental health is another issue his team is now addressing.

"People who had gone through trauma and tragedy and are grappling with the grief. I didn't find the right mental health professionals when I was, you know, really in need of it," said Raymond. "The biggest one is probably just someone advocating that we need more accessible spaces in the community."

He’s talking about more open spaces to fit a wheelchair through a doorway, easier curb access with curb cuts and corner walkway slopes, and more accessible transportation.

"All of these are impediments to people living a good quality of life," said Raymond.  

Raymond is also working on obtaining that kind of accessibility as Chairman of the Regional Transit Authority in New Orleans, the entity responsible for city buses and streetcars.

"People were fighting for an accessible streetcar on the St. Charles Line for ten years before it got done. And unfortunately, two of the people that filed the suit that got it done passed without seeing it come to fruition. Yet there's still more work to be done," said Raymond.

Raymond’s community service is part of his family’s legacy. He’s the grandson of civil rights leader A. P. Tureaud, who was head of the NAACP legal defense fund for New Orleans in the late 1920s.

Tureaud helped desegregate Louisiana schools and obtain political power for African Americans.

His mission was to "right the wrongs" of discrimination, segregation, and violence against Black people.

His 35-year-old grandson is now following in his footsteps by creating his own path to help the people of his state.

"Growing up in that shadow, I guess I kind of knew what the recipe was, but I never thought that I'd have to be the cook in that kitchen," said Raymond. "I wouldn't be able to do any of this without my family and my mom. I think when we put our heads to it and do the work, we see the solutions."