Chase Friedman

Chase Friedman raises his arms in Rocky-style after making the final step to reach the top of the Art Museum steps on Saturday. A gauntlet of supporters had formed to cheer him on, including family and friends who had flown in from his home state of California. Friedman was visiting a friend in Philadelphia in January when he fell and severely injured his spine and has slowly relearned to walk. His goal before leaving Philadelphia was to climb the Art Museum steps. (Charles Fox/Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)

PHILADELPHIA – Chase Friedman awoke inside Thomas Jefferson University Hospital paralyzed from the neck down, wondering whether he’d walk again.

Friedman, 25, slipped and fell on his friend’s bathroom floor on New Year’s Day in Philadelphia, a freak accident that severely injured his spine and left him unable to move his arms and legs. Doctors told him his chances of walking again were “50-50,” he said. The Los Angeles resident said he thought “my life was over.”

But less than three months later, Friedman climbed the iconic Art Museum steps last Saturday, bringing friends, family, and strangers to tears. After he raised his fists at the top of the steps like Rocky Balboa, the fictional Philadelphia boxer and underdog hero portrayed by Sylvester Stallone in eight films, Friedman told the crowd that “anything is possible.”

“I’m glad that people are inspired, because it does prove that you can beat the odds,” Friedman said.

His journey up the 72 steps started well before Saturday. After surgeons put titanium pins in his spine, he learned to walk again at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital. He practiced on treadmills and stairs, held up by a harness or his physical therapist, Erin Freimuth. Meanwhile, his recovery captivated hundreds of thousands of people on TikTok, the social media platform where he would post videos of his progress. A video promoting Saturday’s trek up the Art Museum steps racked up 1.8 million views.

“Chase has always been a fighter,” said Jake Posnock, 25, Friedman’s childhood friend from San Diego, who recorded the climb for social media. “I think about it every day. I don’t know if I’d be in such good spirits. It’s really inspiring.”

Friedman arrived in a wheelchair and transitioned to a walker as he approached the steps. The crowd of about a hundred people, who were dancing, exercising, and posing for photos beforehand, fell silent. With the walker gone and Freimuth holding his waist, Friedman took each step slowly. The horns of the Rocky theme song blared from someone’s speaker. The crowd erupted when he reached each landing. The climb took about six minutes.

“This is so moving,” said Teresa Jackson, 61, visiting from Richmond, Va., as Friedman neared the top. She said she was close to crying.

Friedman, who works for a talent agency, is set to return to California on April 11. He plans to go to Disneyland and “we’re skipping every line,” he joked.

At the Art Museum, Friedman was joined by more than a dozen friends and family members. His mom, Ilana Friedman, 56, said she couldn’t see her son for 23 days after the accident because of coronavirus restrictions. When she finally visited, the sight of her child unable to do anything was overwhelming, she said. But seeing him marching up the Art Museum steps on the first day of spring could bring hope for others, she said.

“This is definitely a time when everybody in the world needs hope,” she said. 

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