More Than a Record-Breaker: A Hero’s Journey
Immediately upon meeting Michael Haddad in person, you will notice his tremendous strength of willpower and determination. At the age of six, he was subject to a spinal cord injury from a Jet Ski accident, which left three-fourths of his body paralyzed from the chest down. Today, defying all odds, he walks by carrying his body one-step at a time – using 26 pound braces initially designed to only hold him upright for limited periods of time. His physical support system alone, however, does not fully encapsulate his remarkability. “Through his perseverance, determination, and belief in science, Michael was able to defy his paralysis and walk upright by adopting a unique walking pattern, similar to a Swing Through Gait pattern (SWG) using the support of an orthotic exoskeleton.” Only through his awe-inspiring spirit and passion has Michael been able to achieve miraculous accomplishments, of which he has many.
He has broken three world records through his walking and climbing, representing his beloved Lebanon along the way. On March 8, 2015 Michael achieved his third world record by climbing the Black Summit or Al Qornet El Sawda – the highest point not only in Lebanon but in the entire Levant – at 10,131 feet above sea level under the training and supervision of the Lebanese Army Rangers Regiment. He also carried himself for twelve miles, amounting to 60,000 steps, on a journey that took him through the mountains of Lebanon, where he persevered against all manners of natural obstacles, including sub-zero temperatures. Commemorating World Oceans Day in 2014, Michael also climbed the iconic Raouche Pigeon rocks and hoisted himself up 131 feet, relying only on his upper body to do so.
Since 2019, Michael has been recognized as a Goodwill Ambassador for Climate Action by the UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Arab States. Already having dedicated his platform to raise awareness on the impact of deforestation, environmental destruction, and climate change, Michael went above and beyond his own accomplishments by completing his Arctic Walk for Climate Resilience and Food Security, in June of last year, during which he carried seed samples from twelve Arab countries and a book by Pope Francis to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault—the world’s largest backup facility for seeds. He trained with the UK Rangers Regiment in preparation for this Arctic Walk and was featured in the media, globally.
For many, Michael Haddad’s athletic accomplishments alone would be inspiring. What makes him more than an athlete and role model, however, is his relentless commitment to his goodwill and humanity; going beyond the limits by pushing his own personal boundaries, endurance, and sense of responsibility and positivity. A research team representing the Lebanese American University (LAU), American University of Beirut (AUB), Phoenix Energy, Order of Physical Therapists of Lebanon and Orthotics Professionals and Engineers collaborated to develop an exoskeleton capable of enhancing the life of people suffering from spinal cord injuries. Michael’s participation in this cutting-edge research, also in collaboration with a special medical team from LAU and AUB and other international bodies, has not only improved his own access and physical mobility, but has also brought hope to communities challenged by disabilities and the lack of universal accessibility.
He remains committed to improving accessibility conditions on behalf of the disabled community, as demonstrated by his focus on the mobility needs in the Karantina neighborhood following the August 4th Port of Beirut explosion. As an activist abroad and at home, Michael has be recognized by the UN, multiple universities, and NGOs in many locations for his exceptional accomplishments.
Describing Michael, Thomas Abraham says, “At a very young age, most children are taught to believe in the impossible. Michael Haddad is God’s instrument of showcasing that the impossible is possible, and Michael’s key to achieving the impossible is he believes in the supreme being. Michael embodies the holistic presence of mind that, with his determination, willpower, and commitment to reach the impossible, he has accomplished the same based on his faith in the Almighty. Michael, indeed, is a walking miracle that cannot be defined without looking into his faith in the divine being who has used Michael as an instrument of trust that embodies the pure essence of love.”
It has not been a simple transition, but as an experienced entrepreneur, motivational speaker, and activist, Michael Haddad is able to do many things, having built an effective platform for himself to inspire change. His actions and achievements speak louder and bolder than his words. He is so much more than a paraplegic athlete and role model; he is a hero.
To read his complete story, visit www.michaelhaddad.org .
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon, a non-profit, nonpartisan leadership organization of Lebanese-Americans. The ATFL-sponsored Congressional Delegation met with Michael Haddad in November of 2021. Featured in the image above (from right): Congressman Darin LaHood, Michael Haddad, Congressman Darrell Issa, and Ambassador Ed Gabriel, Ret.