Born and raised in south central Los Angeles, Leonard “Leo” Harmon, was living his dream traveling the country as a musical theater performer and musician. In his spare time, Leo enjoyed doing a variety of outdoor activities, including riding his motorcycle.
One fall day in 2016, a motorcycle accident changed Leo’s life forever. He was hit by a truck and critically injured. Rushed to the hospital by ambulance, Leo underwent surgery. A complete T-7 spinal cord injury left him paralyzed from the upper abdomen down. At age 30, Leo was now living with paraplegia.
Once Leo was medically stabilized, the next step in his journey was inpatient rehabilitation. A friend recommended California Rehabilitation Institute (Cal Rehab) because it was close to her office and she wanted to easily “keep tabs” on Leo so his mother wouldn’t have commute to and from the hospital every day.
As a result of his injury, Leo had to re-learn how to sit up straight, balance and perform personal care, including bathing and dressing. Upon admission to Cal Rehab, Leo’s goal was to do whatever it took to return home. In the early days of his recovery, he spent a lot of time thinking about what his life would be like moving forward.
His physician-led team of nurses and therapists helped Leo regain the skills he would need to live as fully as possible. “My team was beyond amazing,” Leo said. “The first day, I didn’t know what to expect but they made therapy fun. Everyone had great energy and was very helpful.” He admits that there were days when he didn’t want to participate – “I just simply didn’t want to get out of bed” – but that he pushed through because he knew it would be beneficial in the long run.
Leo recalls that his therapists “made sure I was equipped with everything that I needed and everything I needed to know so that I could be as independent as possible.” He said that the close relationships he developed with his therapy team is what made it hard to leave Cal Rehab, sharing, “I got attached to them because they became my friends, not just my therapists. I’m thankful to have met them all.”
Leo also gives credit to his family for aiding in his recovery, saying, “My family was always there and supportive every day. They are a huge reason why I was able to recover so quickly.” Despite choosing Cal Rehab so that his mother wouldn’t have to drive back and forth every day, Leo laughs as he remembers that she came to visit every day anyway.
Naturally athletic and having had exposure to weight training from his father and grandfather since he was young, Leo said that he always knew what he was capable of, so he spent his time at Cal Rehab focused on learning and letting everything soak in. Once he was physically ready, Leo threw himself into wheelchair bodybuilding after he was encouraged by a professional wheelchair bodybuilder that he met at Cal Rehab. “I had no idea that such a thing existed,” Leo recalls. Since then, he has taken first place in the 2019 and 2020 NPC Wheelchair Nationals.
Leo, now 35 years old, works as an actor and a personal trainer. He spends his time weight training, going to the beach and gun range, reading, building model cars and giving back to his community by feeding the homeless.
Over five years after his accident, Leo has had time to reflect on his experience and subsequent recovery. When asked if he has any insight for those who are currently facing rehabilitation, Leo says, “You’ll never know how strong you truly are until strong is what you have to be. I knew I was strong, but I didn’t know I was this strong.”