Ventnor's Jonathan Manno, 16, was paralyzed from the chest down in a freerunning accident Oct. 3 at his hometown's Somerset playground. Freerunning involves using obstacles in the environment as platforms for gymnastic-type moves, and is considered an art as well as athletic endeavor by practitioners.
Manno was doing a move called a castaway, which involves a back flip off a raised bar, but landed on his head and damaged his spine.
Since the accident, he has put his considerable energy and drive into pushing his body to stay active and strong.
"I'm focused a lot on my arms. They are more important than ever - they are my mode of transportation," he said. "My mother wanted to get me an electronic chair to get around fairly quickly. I told her it's better for me to push myself around."
Manno spent six weeks at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center in Atlantic City after the accident, then several weeks as an inpatient at Magee Rehabilitation in Philadelphia. He goes there regularly now as an outpatient.
Friends are holding a fundraiser for Manno and his family Jan. 14 at the Moose Lodge in Atlantic City. The money raised will be used to help pay for transportation to and from Philadelphia, and other costs not covered by insurance.
Manno said attitudes and discipline he learned from freerunning are helping him deal with the loss of mobility.
"Freerunning is all about a person and athlete adapting and overcoming obstacles," Manno said. "The mindset I acquired … really carried over to now I have my injury."
He is hoping that, as the swelling goes down in his spinal chord - which can take from six months to two years - some function will come back. While doctors have told Manno he won't walk again, he is determined to do what he can to make it possible.
"I've heard so many stories where doctors say that, and people are perfectly fine," Manno said. "As long as I keep trying as hard as I can, I know I will (walk again)."
Freerunning showed him he can do things he wouldn't have thought possible, he said.
"In the past few years, training made me into someone who is not discouraged by setbacks," he said. "There's never been a point I've looked back and said, 'What if I did this or that.' I know it's not constructive."
His mom, Lee Ann Manno, is an administrative assistant at the Enclave Condominium Associ-ation in Atlantic City. Dad Greg Manno, a pump operator for the city of Ventnor, said he has seen a huge difference in his son since the accident.
"He grew up. It's unbelievable," Greg Manno said, adding his son chose his rehabilitation treatment and is taking responsibility for keeping up with honors classes at Atlantic City High School, where he is a junior.
Friends had first organized the fundraiser for early November, but it was postponed due to Hurricane Sandy.
Manno started running track and swimming in seventh grade. He said he was looking for exercises to get faster in 2009, when he found freerunning videos on the Internet. When he saw someone wall running, literally running on a vertical wall, "it looked like something out of the Matrix," he said. He started training for freerunning, which he calls a cousin of parkour.
Parkour, or using city structures as part of obstacle courses, was developed by members of the military and firefighters for training.
Manno said he took safety training seriously, but "there's an inherent risk and I got hurt doing it."
The day of his accident he was tired. He and a group of other freerunners had been filming each other all day.
"I think it was overexcitement," he said. "I don't remember doing the flip. Friends tell me my feet nipped the bar, or my hands slipped."
They got help right away, but "it was a very scary moment," Manno said. "Most of the kids on my team I taught from the ground up. I was like a mentor. The kids couldn't believe I had messed up so badly."
He said his experience shows why it's so important to listen to your instincts.
"If you're not sure, not feeling it, just don't do it," he said.
Contact Michelle Brunetti Post:
If you go
Beef and Beer for Jonathan Manno, at the Atlantic City Moose Lodge, 3900 West End Ave., Atlantic City from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Jan. 12. $20 at the door or call 609-517-3988.