On Top of the Mountain
by Michael Mills
Recently I was asked, “What’s it like being in a wheelchair?” To be honest, I really couldn’t answer the question. This got me thinking… what IS it like being in a wheelchair? For me to explain what I really think, I need to take you back a while.
Growing up I went to school, had hobbies and a job. I misbehaved, had issues at school and was always into something. You see, I was an average teen no different. Except for one thing. I was one of a few in my hometown who rode a skateboard. I was not a football player or on the debate team or anything socially accepted. I hung out with a few friends and spend all of our free time skating. That was what I did. You could always find me either at my job or on the streets in town with my best friend skating our day away.
On May 2, 1993 my life changed in a way I never could have imagined. I got up that Saturday morning and went to my best friend’s house. We took off to a local town to skate. We skated all morning and that afternoon I had to go home to go to work. My friend tried everything to get me to skip work and to keep skating but I had to work since I had just broken my favorite skateboard. I went on my way and worked until 10:30pm that night. On my way home I went by my friend’s house and we skated in his driveway until midnight. After that I took off toward home. Little did I know that would be the last time I would ever stand and ride a skateboard.
Around 12:15am I was almost home, less than 3 miles away when I rounded a curve and in that curve was a car going well beyond the speed limit. In that curve was where I was struck head on by a drunk driver. Not to go into all of the details but in the end of it all I was evacuated to the local hospital where they determined there was nothing they could do. Send to another hospital an hour away where they too couldn’t handle my injuries and finally flown to another hospital that was better equipped to handle all of the damage.
Left leg compound fracture
Left shoulder broken
All of my ribs broken
Both lungs punctured (due to broken ribs)
Left eye socket broken
Left side jaw bone broken
Left hand crushed
Obvious spinal cord injury
Plus the main reason neither of the first 2 hospitals could assist was that my aorta was severed. This is the main artery that transfers blood throughout your body. Without the aorta your body does not receive blood. Without blood…you die. My aorta was severely damaged and my heart was pumping blood with nowhere for it to go but out of my body. I was in a world of trouble.
I was transported to the hospital where I would have an emergency 18 hour surgery to repair the damage. After all was said and done…
I SURVIVED! I had made it through all the surgeries but only time would tell if I would survive or even wake up. I was in a coma and on life support. My family was told that it would be up to a year if I woke up from my coma or at all. If I did I might be a vegetable for the rest of my life. I woke up a few weeks later not knowing what had happened. I did not know I was hit by a drunk driver or had major open heart surgery. Heck, I didn’t know I was paralyzed. All I knew what that I was in a hospital and that I had tubes all over my body. After waking up from my coma I was told I would never walk again and I truly couldn’t comprehend this as I had a head injury and a severe case of amnesia. I wouldn’t remember anything at all. I knew it was going to be a long road ahead of me but I had no choice in the matter.
Fast Forward a Bit…
I became active and I needed an outlet. I started wheelchair racing, which took me all over the United States and the world. I was able to travel, race, and compete for the US at one point in my career. Then I got married and became a father to three amazing kinds. I did the normal routine of the gym for a while but shortly got bored. That’s when I found “Obstacle Course Racing”. This was no wheelchair sport and no person in a wheelchair had ever done such a thing as OCR. That was all I needed. I started researching and found out about Spartan Racing and that an OCR race was coming to my hometown in Georgia. I reached out to the company and asked to race. The company said that nobody had ever done that and if I felt like I would like to try it then so be it. I mustered up a team of friends that believed in me and felt that if I was willing to try they would assist me in any way possible. Right before my first OCR race I decided I would go out and train for a weekend with some friends. I knew that I would be crawling a better part of the event and rarely use my wheelchair. I decided I would crawl up a mountain called “Stone Mountain”.
This mountain is about a mile up to the top and I felt like this would be the best way to train for what was about to come. After putting for the effort of crawling the mountain I because the first paralyzed person to crawl Stone Mountain and being told I was the first person to do something was addictive. It was just what I needed to get my edge back. The Spartan Race as that time was the hardest thing I have ever done. It was an all-day attack on my body. I became the first person to complete a Spartan Race. I did some more races for a few years and was able to complete all of the level of the Spartan races. I even attacked the hardest event known to man and competed in the Summer Death Race. I was able to complete 24 hours of this event and was the first ever paralyzed person to attempt this event.
Doing Spartan races for a few years became the norm and as true to form, I got bored again. I decided I would go for a world record in 2015. After Christmas day 2014 I started training. I decided I would be the first person to pull an SUV the length of a football field in my wheelchair. In April of 2015 I pulled a 2016 Honda Pilot weighing over 5,600lbs the entire length of a football field to earn a world record as the first to do so. I did this at a functional fitness competition watching crazy people do crazy things with weight and I thought…”These people are nuts, I WANNA TRY!”
After looking in my area I found a box that would allow me to try it out. The owner was as shocked as I was about coming in. Neither one of us knew what we were going to do but we were both willing to try. After a few weeks in I needed a chair that would be used for training only. Right before the chair was complete, I decided I would compete in my first adaptive competition. I finished 3rd. I was hooked and knew this is something I would do from then on. I went on to compete in January 2016 in the adaptive division of Wodapalooza in Miami, FL and finished 3rd there as well. After doing a few more competitions in 2016 placing 1st I had the greatest opportunity to date which was none other than Rush Club.
I met AJ Richards at Wodapalooza and we talked for a few months to confirm that I would be able to compete in the first ever Rush Club Nation Adaptive Wheeled title in June. Rush Club is a unique competition that meshed fitness and a fight club together. Rush club is the first head to head competition and they felt that the Adaptive Wheeled athletes needed a spot. I went head to head with none other than Zack Ruhl. I trained hard for this competition. At the end I finished close behind Zack and that was ok. I was part of something amazing. I was part of the first ever Rush Club Nation Adaptive Wheeled title. How many people can say that? Just two, me and Zack.
Going back to the question, “What’s it like being in a wheelchair?” Well, looking back over the last 24 years of my life I have to say being in a wheelchair is pretty awesome. I have done more in my life since my injury than most will ever do. And…I still have more to do.
You see, I think people spend so much of their lives worrying about what happened badly and never really get over it. They dwell on the negative and end up living a very unhappy life.
Me, NOT AT ALL . . .
I decided shortly after learning that I would never walk again I would use it as a vessel to live my life as much as I could and do as much as possible. I would not allow what happened to me on May 2nd, 1993 to ruin my life or limit me from living a full life.
I think too many people just exist and never truly live.
I have a great life with 3 kids, a wife and one heck of a story to tell my grandkids.
- Michael Mills