Disability advocate hopes to walk in space with new leg braces

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – When it comes to beating the odds, Jean Maggi is a pro.

After contracting polio as a child in Argentina and losing his ability to walk on his own, Maggi, 58, remains determined to follow his dreams.

And now, after skiing in the Paralympics and hand-cycling through the Himalayas, he’s setting his sights on an even bigger goal — space travel.

That’s where Matthew Klein and his team at the Hanger Clinic in South Florida come in.

After initially providing Maggi with braces in 2013 that finally allowed him to walk independently, the same team has now fitted him with new, lightweight knee, ankle and foot braces that are designed to help him better complete aerospace training.

“He called us probably a year or so ago, and he said, ‘Matt, I’m going to space,’” said Klein, a licensed prosthetist/orthotist. He describes the new braces as “state of the art, carbon fiber, very, very lightweight, very strong to give him that structure and that framework to take the forces that would be involved to go into space.”

While Maggi is on the waiting list for commercial space flight, he’s determined to fulfill his dream of becoming the first person with a disability to get there — just as he has for countless past challenges.

Maggi, the subject of a Netflix documentary, lives in Argentina but travels to South Florida periodically to meet with his team of specialists at the Hanger Clinic.

Those specialists realize that someday their braces will need to accommodate others who dream as big as Maggi.

“The properties and materials continue to evolve, and we’re always looking for the next best material that’s strong, that’s light and can take the everyday forces of everyday walking — and that let people travel into space,” Klein said. “Maybe that’s the future, so we need our braces to be able to accommodate those people.”

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