SCHENECTADY - Mason Hamilton of Warrensburg settled into a wheelchair after taking off his leg braces with the help of a physical therapist nurse.
Minutes earlier, Hamilton had walked about 30 feet, back and forth, in Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital in Schenectady, with the help of a walker. He's been there for about three weeks, following a stay at Albany Medical Center, where he underwent major surgery to reconstruct his sping after shattering his spine in a crash during warm-up laps for a snowmobile race Feb. 6 on Echo Lake.
"This was a workout," Hamilton said. "It feels good to be back amongst the standing."
"Nice job," the Sunnyview therapist responded.
Hamilton explains his therapy routine as he wheels back to his room. The walking practice occurs in the morning, and "Occupational Therapy," or learning how to get from a bed or mat into a wheelchair, is offered in the afternoon.
"All this is to develop my balance, which is difficult without feeling in my legs or controlling their movement," he said. "It's amazing how quickly you pick up how using a wheelchair - I've been in it about three weeks but I'm getting pretty savvy to it."
Not only is he achieving mobility, but his body is beginning to heal, regaining some of the control in his legs that he lost in the crash.
He looks down at his thigh, and makes his right quadracep twitch, then smiles broadly.
"It's minimal, but it's a start," he said. "Any improvement, as small as they seem, are forward progress - I'll take it and keep going."
His solid improvement in mobility, plus the immense support he's gotten from family and friends, are leading to the expectation that he'll be home soon, perhaps as soon as Friday. In the meantime, he's got 1,026 friends on Facebook checking into his progress, waiting for intermittent messages from Hamilton.
Such an outpouring of caring and concern is almost overwhelming, Hamilton said.
"I appreciate each and everyone on Facebook supporting me," he said. "This group includes people I haven't seen in years, or people I don't even know - it's really crazy. People are going far beyond anything I'd ever think of."
Plastered over the Sunnyview hospital walls are dozens of cards, photos and letters. Gifts line the floors. One gift box includes a Nerf bazooka that friend Craig House brought to him, so they can blast each other with foam balls for laughs.
"People have been so thoughtful," Hamilton said, turning his attention to his computer. "I've changed some - I appreciate the little things in life more now."
That means appreciating a kind gesture, a thoughtful comment, or dreaming of getting back to ordinary life, even if its merely mowing the lawn or accomplishing Spring cleanup chores in his back yard, he said.
Then there's the goal of taking camping and fishing trips like he used to do, with a dozen or more guys from Warrensburg and Thurman, up to Lincoln Pond.
"I'd like to figure out how to get back to doing stuff the way it was as much as possible," he said. "But normal is going to take on a whole new face."
While Hamilton's been recovering, dozens of his friends have been volunteering their time to update his home so it's barrier-free and can accommodate a wheelchair.
Hamilton said he can't wait to see the folks who've been hard at work fixing up his place.
"It's going to be emotional for me to get back to see people who jumped into this thing with both feet," he said. "I hope one day I can help out people like they have helped me. It drives me crazy to be here and not able to give back right now."