by Emily DiFrisco
Leon Bostick started his first year at Pepperdine School of Law like any other student. He did well in the fall semester and took off for winter break.
On January 4, 2001, the bodybuilder visited Gold's Gym in Venice, California, for a typical workout. He warmed up and headed to a Flex Equipment machine for squats. In the middle of his workout, the horizontal bar of weights fell on Bostick's neck. No adjustable safety stops were there to catch it.
Bostick suffered numerous injuries from the accident, which left him a quadriplegic. He spent months in the ICU, underwent several surgeries, and endured grueling physical therapy.
He also suffered from traumatic amnesia. Though the details of that time are difficult to recall, he remembers distinctly many Pepperdine faculty, staff, and students holding prayer vigils and visiting him in the hospital. Jim Gash, associate dean for student life, remembers taking his class to the ICU immediately following the accident.
"Leon was like the class mascot," says Dean Gash. "Everyone knew him. He had a lot of life experience, a lot of practical insight. Everyone always wanted to know what he thought about a case."
Bostick's practical insight came from a varied background that included everything from engineering to acting and modeling. He earned a B.S. in chemical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania and a master's degree from Rice University. In addition to competing as a champion bodybuilder, he served as a lieutenant in the Marine Corps for several years. He raced cars and motorcycles. He drove limos, programmed computers, taught high school, and even appeared in a Reebok commercial.
His entire life halted after the accident. "It's kind of like a mini-death," Bostick told the Los Angeles Times in November. "The walking me died in 2001. Now there's the rolling me."
After a year of rehabilitation, Bostick returned to Pepperdine Law. "Everything was an adjustment," he says. "I had to use the Dragon system software. I couldn't take notes or write my own tests."
Despite his limitations, Bostick continued to work hard in law school and even participated in the San Diego Defense Lawyers Trial Competition in fall 2002.
Following the accident, he sued Flex Equipment and Gold's Gym. He offered to settle with Flex's insurer, Atlantic Mutual for its policy limit of $1 million. Atlantic Mutual did not respond to his offer, and the case went to trial.
The trial took place during Bostick's third year of law school. Dean Gash testified about the pre-injury Bostick and post-injury Bostick, telling the jury how the accident had halted his studies. A Superior Court jury found Flex Equipment liable and awarded Bostick $14.6 million. Flex Equipment was unable to pay the jury award, and Bostick was allowed to sue its insurer, Atlantic Mutual, for failing to settle back in 2001. Gold's Gym settled with Bostick for $7.3 million.
Seven years of litigation came to a close in mid-November 2008, when a U.S. District Court jury ruled against Atlantic Mutual and awarded Bostick an additional $11.3 million.
Although he fears the jury's verdict will be appealed, Bostick has moved forward with his life. After successfully completing law school in 2005, he fell back in love with the adrenaline rush. He plays quad rugby (known as "murder ball"), basketball, and hockey in addition to hand cycling, wheelchair bodybuilding, power lifting, scuba diving, and surfing.
He also spends time building his nonprofit group the Disabled Sports and Fitness Foundation, which recently acquired 501-c-3 status. The foundation aims to promote and develop programs that satisfy the social, therapeutic, fitness, and physical needs of persons who are physically disabled as a result of lifelong spinal cord disease or injury.
"I know the misery I had getting out of the hospital," says Bostick. "I didn't know how to pick a chair or what other equipment I needed."
Bostick's physical therapy used to cost $300 a day. Now he works out with friends in the garage gym he owns in Northridge. He hopes to someday open a full physical therapy gym for disabled people of all financial means. He says, "I want to make physical therapy affordable for the common man."
by Emily DiFrisco