After his own accident, he started Louisiana’s first gym for people with life-altering injuries | Louisiana Inspired

Mark Raymond Jr. knows how it feels to be left on your own. In 2016, the high-achieving former broadcast engineer was at the peak of his career when a dive off a friend’s boat went horribly wrong, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down.

Upon his discharge from the hospital, Raymond quickly discovered just how little there was in the way of post-accident rehabilitation. With few options available, a maze of health care bureaucracy to navigate and an overall lack of support, he felt isolated and depressed.

“Going through that experience and not having the resources, not having anything in place and just getting discharged and sent home is, like … they just abandon you,” he recalls.

So, he did something about it.



NO.splitsecondtherapyins.091822.04.jpg

Mike Stagg lows himself onto a leg press machine at the Split Second Foundation in New Orleans, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022. Mike Stagg had a stroke and goes to the gym multiple times a week. (Photo by Sophia Germer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)




Inspired by a life-changing trip to a physical rehabilitation center in California, Raymond formed the Split Second Foundation in April 2018 to raise awareness and advocate for those with debilitating conditions. The foundation’s name refers to how lives can change in the blink of an eye.

In February 2021, the foundation opened the Split Second Fitness gym on Gentilly Boulevard in New Orleans. It’s the first facility in Louisiana dedicated to people living with paralysis, stroke or amputation, and its purpose is simple: to help those who, like Raymond, find themselves left to their own devices after suffering a catastrophic, life-altering injury.

“Everybody here has a split-second story,” Raymond says. “I put all of this together because I didn’t want people to go through what I went through.”



NO.splitsecondtherapyins.091822.02.jpg

Director Quanteria Williams-Porche walks with Mike Stagg as he does laps around the Split Second Foundation gym in New Orleans, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022. Mike Stagg had a stroke and goes to the gym multiple times a week. (Photo by Sophia Germer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)




The gym provides services that improve health, function and quality of life for people with debilitating injuries who couldn’t normally afford them otherwise. For just $50 a month, Split Second’s employees provide one-on-one sessions twice a week, with the workouts lasting between an hour and 90 minutes.

Although more than 50% of the gym’s clients have suffered either strokes or spinal injuries, a wide range of disabilities are catered for, including everything from brain injuries to amputations to muscular dystrophy.

After being assessed by staff, each client receives an individual treatment and exercise program based on their specific needs. The gym has served more than 120 people so far, nearly all of whom wouldn’t be able to receive such treatment any other way.

Although the extent of care provided by Medicare and other insurance plans varies, many — if not most — cover only the first 100 days of physical therapy treatment. It’s nowhere near enough for people requiring extensive rehabilitation, often over the course of their lifetimes.

Given the program’s fees don’t even begin to cover its cost, Split Second is funded by a range of sponsors and an annual fundraising gala. The next fundraiser, called the Show of Love Gala, will be held at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans Oct. 22.

Not only will the funds go toward keeping the gym program afloat, but they will help pay for a variety of other initiatives, including a move to a larger gym and an expansion of services throughout the community.



NO.splitsecondtherapyins.091822.01.jpg

Director Quanteria Williams-Porche helps Mike Stagg out of his wheelchair to do laps around the Split Second Foundation gym in New Orleans, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022. Mike Stagg had a stroke and goes to the gym multiple times a week. (Photo by Sophia Germer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)




Split Second Fitness has been a lifeline for people like Mike Stagg.

Until suffering a debilitating stroke, Stagg was a larger-than-life, passionate social justice advocate with an extensive résumé covering everything from running newspapers, running for office and running political campaigns to hosting podcasts. Yet everything ground to a halt Feb. 13, 2019, when he was found on the floor of his Lafayette apartment after suffering a massive stroke more than a day earlier.

His partner, Mimi Methvin, whose congressional campaign Stagg had helped run, was one of the first to reach him.

“When I first saw Mike, he was lying on the floor with his head pointed towards the front door,” she recalls. “I thought he was dead.”

Though he survived, his injuries were severe. Confined to a wheelchair and paralyzed on his right side, he was still largely able to understand and communicate, but his ability to express abstract thoughts and ideas was gone.

Over the next three years, Stagg and Methvin managed to navigate their way through the health insurance system. Partly through doctor’s referrals and recurrent bouts of illness, Stagg managed to access crucial physical therapy — initially through Touro Infirmary then St. Margaret’s Daughters.

However, when the insurance did eventually run out, Methvin didn’t know where to turn. That’s where Split Second came in.

“Just having a place to go, to get the help from trained physical therapists who know how to work with these folks and get them to really strive and stay strong, makes a huge difference,” Methvin said.



NO.splitsecondtherapyins.091822.08.jpg

Director Quanteria Williams-Porche talks to Mike Stagg as he uses the stationary bike at the Split Second Foundation gym in New Orleans, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022. (Photo by Sophia Germer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)




Stagg’s story encapsulates why Split Second is so important. Now he can access the care that keeps him going even without insurance — which is why, even on the odd down day, the gym acts as a beacon of promise, a reason to keep striving.

“When he has an appointment coming up, you see him grow happy and articulate,” Methvin says. “It’s this determination to keep moving forward, to keep working, to never give up. … Split Second has kept that light going.”

For more information about Split Second, including the foundation, its various outreach programs and how to get involved, go to splitsecondfoundation.org.

Louisiana Inspired is a weekly Sunday section that focuses on people and organizations in Louisiana who are working toward solving problems and making the world a better place. The section is published in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Acadiana. If you know of someone or an organization that is doing exceptional work to make Louisiana better, please let us know by emailing us at [email protected]