In 2014, life for 23-year-old Josh Smith of Richmond, Virginia, changed in the blink of an eye.
He was visiting friends in Virginia Beach when he dove into a wave and hit a sandbar. When he came to, he realized he was paralyzed from the neck down.
“It was really scary,” Josh said. “Luckily, my friends dragged me out onto the beach and waited for the paramedics to get there.”
Josh spent the following weeks and months recovering from the accident and working with therapists to adjust to life in a wheelchair. He moved back to his hometown of Richmond to be closer to family, constantly striving to regain the independence he lost that fateful day.
Less than a year after his accident, Josh learned to drive an accessible van, played adaptive sports, and even returned to work full-time. The only thing he felt was missing in his life was love.
“My self-confidence kind of went down the drain a little bit,” he said. “I didn’t really think anybody would want to date me, let alone marry me.”
In 2020, all of that changed when he met Grace Thompson through a dating app.
Grace and Josh started dating just before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Once stay-at-home orders went into effect, the couple used their extra time together to bond. They fell deeper in love each day, and by 2021, Josh knew he wanted to spend the rest of his life with Grace.
The lovebirds had always envisioned a traditional proposal, and Josh wanted to give Grace “something special.” In his head, he pictured himself popping the question while down on one knee, but he needed some help to make that happen. He reached out to his physical therapists, who hooked him up with an exoskeleton device that enables paralyzed people to stand on their own. It took a few weeks of extra therapy sessions to learn how to use the exoskeleton, but in July he was ready to go!
On the big day, Grace was sent out with a friend while Josh got ready. When she returned, he was on the back porch waiting for her — on one knee!
“I just kind of froze, staring at him and I felt like I couldn’t move,” Grace said. “Then my family and his family started pouring out, and I was like, ‘Oh!’ It was very overwhelming but in a good way.”
Obviously, she said yes!
Grace thought it was “really cool” to see him on one knee, adding, “I’ve never seen him stand before, so that was really great and it was really strange to, like, have him hug me standing up! I wish we could do that more!”
The couple tied the knot in a small backyard ceremony just a week later and plan to hold a larger celebration next fall. In the meantime, Josh wants their story to show there’s nothing that can’t be accomplished with a little help and a lot of willpower! He also hopes no one will give up on finding a soul mate of their own.
“There really is someone out there for everybody,” Grace said. “I think on my end of things, and from what I’ve learned, is to just try to be more patient and learn how and when to help him and know when he wants to do things on his own.”
Wise words for us all! We’re so happy that technology like this exists, and we can’t wait to see what it will mean for paralyzed people in the future!
Watch Josh get down on one knee to propose to Grace in the video below, and don’t forget to share this story.
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