Riding High

Reprinted from PN August 2017

A free program imported from the United Kingdom is helping people with SCI experience the freedom and fun of riding an adapted two-wheeled motorcycle.

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Michael Mays was freezing. It was windy, and the thermometer revealed it was only about 38 degrees outside. This was Pennsylvania in October, with the weather jumping wildly from sandal season to snow boot season. And, if Mays was being honest, it was reaching the point where he was having a hard time feeling his hands from exposure. So, he ended his motorcycle ride, one he had been waiting years to do and had at one point seemed entirely out of reach.

“It was as safe as it could possibly be, being in a wheelchair and riding a motorcycle,” Mays, 38, of Indiana, says.

Michael Mays, on motorcycle, receives some help setting up for a ride during last year’s The Bike Experience USA event.

That ride was made possible by The Bike Experience USA, a nonprofit organization with a mission to offer paralyzed individuals a chance to feel the freedom of riding a two-wheeled motorcycle, either for the first time or as they had for years before sustaining their spinal-cord injuries (SCI). 

A Return To Riding

For Mays, the ride was a return to an activity that may as well have been imprinted in      his DNA. 

“I remember the first time I ever saw a bike,” he says. “It was on TV. I was 7 years old. It was Saturday. A supercross race came on. As soon as I saw those guys on that bike, I was like, ‘That’s what I want to do with my life.’ ”

He followed through with that young promise, riding for the first time when he was 11 and deciding to “steal” his brother’s bike when he and his buddy were 13. Mays raced motocross for years until a wreck stopped him in his tracks in 2002. While coming off a 90-foot jump and sailing into a 60-foot one, Mays realized his bike throttle was stuck. He hit a retaining fence headfirst at 60 miles an hour. His bike landed on top of him. He broke his back in seven places, broke his shoulder blade in three places and sustained a number of other serious injuries, including a T9/10 SCI. 

“I just barely made it,” he says.

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