SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — Vishal Shukla, a Southern Utah University student who was paralyzed in a bodysurfing accident in 2022, has beaten the odds and climbed Oregon’s tallest mountain — Mt. Hood.

It was spring break when Shukla suffered a Spinal Cord Injury while bodysurfing with some friends near his hometown in California.

He was rushed to a nearby hospital where he underwent surgery. The injury left him paralyzed from the neck down, and doctors told him he would likely never walk again.

But Shukla’s road to recovery began just a few weeks later, after he was transferred to the Neuro-Specialty Rehabilitation Unit at Murray’s Intermountain Medical Center. It was here, while looking out of the hospital window at Mt. Olympus, that Shukla’s mind began to wander.

“Every day I could see Mount Olympus out of my hospital window, and as I got feeling back in my fingers, I began to look through posts and saw my friend building trails in Oregon with Mt. Hood in the background,” said Shukla. “I decided then I was going to climb Mt. Hood at some point in my life.”

Without the ability to walk, Shukla started to dream of climbing Mt. Hood, the tallest mountain in Oregon. He would go on to endure more than a month of intense therapy with caregivers, building strength and figuring out just how much movement he would be able to get back.

But he credits some of his lasting inspiration to a support group, made up of former rehab patients of varying ability levels who come back to the center to help others, like himself, going through similar situations.

“There were two men around my age who would come into my room in their wheelchairs and they always had smiles on their faces and were happy,” said Shukla. “It reassured me that regardless of what happens in the long term, everything was going to be okay.”

Sure enough, Shukla would get stronger, and eventually, regain use of his legs.

“It’s sometimes known as ‘The Miracle Unit’ because of its impact on patients who’ve experienced a life-changing trauma,” said John Frampton, MD, medical director of Neuro-Specialty Rehabilitation Unit at Intermountain Medical Center. “It’s also life-changing for our caregivers who get to see our patients overcome barriers and create their own miracles.”

But the work wasn’t over.

Shukla would have to do months of outpatient therapy, which he did at a non-profit rehab facility in Sandy called Neuroworx. He believed in their work enough to dedicate his climb up Mt. Hood to them, turning the experience into a way to give back — a fundraiser for the facility.

“I’ve gotten such amazing care at every step along the way, I wanted to give something back to help those in a situation like me,” said Shukla.

A little over a year after his injury, after preparing for the climb through intense altitude conditioning and strength building, Shukla would accomplish his goal to climb Mt. Hood.

“Just a year before I was preparing to use a wheelchair for the rest of my life and to be standing on top of that mountain was such an accomplished feeling,” said Shukla. “Proving to myself that regardless of physical limitations, a fulfilling and viable lifestyle is always on the table.”

Shukla hasn’t yet regained full strength across his body and says his recovery will be a lifelong process, but he continues to put in the work through physical therapy.

And his next goal? Running.

To donate to his fundraiser, and to learn more about how Spinal Cord Injuries can affect both individuals and their families, visit his GoFundMe here.

On May 17th, 2023, Shukla became the first quadriplegic (paralysis affecting all four limbs) to summit Mount Hood.