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Courtney Verrill

Joshua Rucker shares his journey from his injury, to becoming a professional wheelchair bodybuilder, to finding a brand-new passion.


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Freedom Ride

Reprinted from SNS May 2017

A unique and free program from the United Kingdom comes to America and offers people with spinal cord injuries get up and ride specially adapted two-wheeled motorcycles

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

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). 


Part Of His DNA

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.

In the months and years that followed that devastating injury, Mays learned of an organization that offered adaptive motorcycle riding in the United Kingdom. A man named Michael Petrosini brought the program to the United States, and in a roundabout way, Mays connected with Travis Snow, the vice president of that imported program, The Bike Experience USA. 

Snow, a former Army Ranger, sustained a SCI while riding motocross six days after his four years of service ended in 1999.

“Timing has never really been my friend,” he says, lamenting the fact that his health insurance had lapsed at the time of his accident.

Snow, 40, of Colorado, went in search of an activity that could replace the joy and freedom he felt while riding a bike. It wasn’t easy. He discovered monoskiing, and it held his attention for some time, so much so that he had trained for several years to compete at the Paralympic level. 

“I could go a little bit crazy on my monoski,” he says. “And it got me away from my wheelchair.”

But injuries sidelined him, and he kept romanticizing a return to riding. Snow began adapting four-wheelers but still felt the call back to two wheels. Then, he stumbled upon a man named Ted Kilroy, a disabled rider who had been working to adapt two-wheeled bikes in New Mexico. He went to see him. 

For more information, visit tbexusa.org.

Lisa Nicita is a public relations professional and freelance writer living in Gilbert, Ariz.

 

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