The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

After 91 wheelchair marathons, UP's Juntunen walking again


January 17, 2019

Submitted photo

DEAN JUNTUNEN of Mass City walks at the Milwaukee Veterans Administration Medical Center. The photo was provided by the hospital.

MILWAUKEE - A paralyzed veteran from the Upper Peninsula's Mass City has raced many marathons in his wheelchair, but now he's up and walking for the first time in about 30 years.

With the use of a robotic exoskeleton, Dean Juntunen, 58, volunteered to take part in a study at the Spinal Cord Injury Center at the Milwaukee Veterans Administration Medical Center.

Juntunen is a medically retired captain from the Air Force who was severely injured in a fall in 1991.

He has been training to use a device allowing him to move in some ways like 27 years ago.

"I had not gone from a sitting to a standing position since 1991, so just doing that is fun. It's fun to from sitting to standing and then I start walking with the robot and I can't really feel it or control it. I've got a complete spinal cord injury so I'm paralyzed from the rib-cage down, basically," Juntunen said in a VA story.

He has been working at the Milwaukee VA but walked around the Copper Country Mall Monday in Houghton.

He completed 15 sessions of advanced training in Milwaukee.

Walking with the robotic exoskeleton takes requires him to try and shift his balance back and forth as his legs are moved.

Juntunen said, "When I'm walking with that robot, my mind feels like I'm walking, but in actuality it's more that I'm riding the robot than actually walking."

Juntunen has always remained active in his community.

He served on the Ontonagon Area School District School Board for more than 22 years, including 15 years as president.

He's an avid outdoorsman and views using the machine as another workout.

Juntunen has is a veteran of the Paavo Nurmi Marathon in Hurley, competing in the hand-cycle division. "I've done 91 marathons so far. I got a lifetime goal of a 100, so I'll be reaching that shortly and then I'm paddling all of the Lake Superior coastline."

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