Marcela Turnage made her public debut in a 2014 Baltimore Sun article on the ReWalk exoskeleton. Since then, she’s become one of the faces of the company and has enjoyed a wild ride around the world. As a “ReWalker,” Marcela Turnage gets to do two of her favorite things. One, show off the ReWalk exoskeleton and talk about how it has changed her life. Two, travel around the country and the world.
Turnage, a T12 para since a 2002 car accident, is a passionate spokeswoman for ReWalk’s technology. “The ReWalk has done beautiful things for me,” she says. “I can’t say enough about it.” Since she first started using the exoskeleton in 2014, Turnage has enjoyed multiple benefits, including a reduction in pain and improved bladder control. Last year Turnage developed an even deeper appreciation as the ReWalk helped expedite the healing of a broken tibia. “Before I wasn’t as loud about the benefits, but now that I see the proof of how it helped me and how it really helps me to get better and heal my bones, I’m all over it,” she says, “ReWalk, ReWalk, ReWalk, ReWalk, ReWalk! I cannot breathe without ReWalk.”
The broken tibia didn’t stop Turnage from a whirlwind travel year that would make even the most frequent of frequent flyers jealous. In 2017 alone, she traveled all over the U.S. and visited Spain, Argentina, Peru, Germany and the Netherlands. Through her travels, she met countless doctors, researchers and dignitaries, including the Real Madrid soccer team, the president of Israel, the king and the prime minister of Spain and the vice president of Argentina.
Meeting the vice president of Argentina, Gabriela Michetti, had special meaning for Turnage, as she is also a wheelchair user. “It was incredibly meaningful to see another female wheelchair user who has risen so high in politics,” says Turnage, who is of Peruvian descent. “I got to share a meal with her and show her how the ReWalk works.”
Argentina provided a first-hand example of the difference an outspoken wheelchair user can make. “It often seems like so many nondisabled politicians pay lip service to disability issues,” says Turnage, “but [Michetti] has shown a real commitment to working with people with disabilities and advocating for a more accessible society.”
Turnage has not talked with Michetti since the meeting but keeps up via Instagram. “I asked her if we could meet up some other time to talk more, but she is so busy,” she says.
Traveling abroad has reinforced to Turnage the need for continued advocacy to improve accessibility. “In Europe, everything seemed inaccessible,” she says. “Even something as simple as going to the bathroom was a nightmare.”
As life-changing as the ReWalk has been for her, Turnage’s travels have inspired her to dream even bigger. After being carried to the top of Macchu Picchu on a recent trip, she dreamed of a next-level exoskeleton that would give her the freedom to explore wherever she so desires. “The ReWalk is great, but I would love to go hiking,” she says. “The world is so beautiful, but there are so many places you just can’t go in a chair. It would be nice to have an exoskeleton that let me do whatever I want. That would be awesome.”
Turnage had been traveling and working to help others with spinal cord injuries live their lives to the fullest.