Cross-Country in a Wheelchair Living Well from Sea to Shining Sea

Mike King is living well with a disability - from traveling across the United States to showing others how you can achieve anything.

Mike King is living well with a disability - from traveling across the United States to showing others how you can achieve anything.

As one of four competitive brothers growing up on a dairy farm and a man of strong faith, Mike King is no stranger to the world of contest. If anything, he acknowledges that his upbringing contributed to his strong work ethic and stubbornness to get the job done in spite of any obstacles that might stand in the way.

One of those obstacles occurred in 1978, when Mike was twenty years old. A motorcycle accident ended with Mike’s disability of paraplegia, but started his life of living well with a disability.

“At first, it destroyed all I had learned, but yet the deep foundation that all my characteristics were built on was still there. It was then that I needed my family and friends to help me build them back up, which they did unselfishly,” Mike said.

It was Mike’s deep beliefs and values of diligence that has helped him live his life well. He graduated from college with a degree in social work and Church ministry and returned home to Atglen, Pa. to work at his family’s business, Moccasin Run Golf Club.

But shortly after starting to work, his love for travel and his need to see what the rest of the world had to offer, had him jetting off all over the place. After returning home from a trip to Brazil, his father asked him where he was going to go next.

“For some reason, I said cross-country in my wheelchair,” said Mike.

After hearing about the cross-country trek of George Murray and Phil Carpenter, two of the pioneers in wheelchair sports in America, Mike got the confidence he needed to make his dream seem more of a possibility. “I had just the right amount of encouragement and negativity for the idea that it made me want to try it. I wanted to prove to those who said I could not make it wrong!,” Mike said.

With the help of his best friend Myron Stoltzfus, all the logistics and planning were taken care of while Mike trained physically. In 1985, Mike left Fairbanks, Alaska with the goal to reach Washington, D.C.

After some early bumps in the road and what he describes as the most challenging week of crossing the Ozark Mountains in Missouri, Mike relied again on his competitive nature, will power, and faith to pull him through. When he reached Washington, D.C. four months later, he continued to focus on what lied ahead and didn’t look back.

With his competitive drive, Mike decided to train for more athletic competitions, such as wheelchair racing. His hard work paid off, and he was chosen to compete at various events around the globe as a member of the USA Paralympics Track and Field Team. In 1990, at the Paralympics  Pan American Games he took home gold in the pentathlon and four silver medals in various track events.

In recent days, Mike still jumps at the chance to train and compete. “Either riding my hand cycle, pushing my racing chair or lifting weights, I love competition and pushing my body to its limits,” he said. He has even taken the opportunity to train others in wheelchair racing and currently teaches adaptive skiing with Baltimore Adaptive Recreation and Sports.

According to Mike, it’s not just the physical benefits of training that he loves so much. “It is also a big confidence booster to kick younger athletes’ butts in competition. Me being 53 years old, experience plays a big role in competition sometimes. I get a kick out of hearing them say I can’t believe that old guy beat me.”

With athletics still a large part of Mike’s life, he has since been working at the ministry Joni and Friends, an organization that is serving God and the community by advancing disability ministry. Joni and Friends was started by Joni Eareckson Tada who Mike credits for inspiring him to let God into every part of his life and to count all his suffering as a blessing. By following this one rule, Mike has witnessed Joni build a ministry that reaches the spiritual healing of people with disabilities all over the world.

He is also one of the organizers for Joni and Friends’ Ride for Hope. “I love to ride motorcycles even though it was a motorcycle accident that made me a paraplegic. It is fun riding the 50 mile ride we do each year to benefit the Family Retreat program of Joni and Friends Eastern Pa.,” he said.

From trekking across the country in a wheelchair to working with other people with disabilities, Mike is living well. When asked if he could tell the world one thing about himself, Mike answered:

“Yes, I have a disability. There are some things my disability prevents me from doing, but the things I still can do outnumber them…I am a person who lives with a disability, not a disabled person. That philosophy is what changes attitudes and hearts, and what makes the difference. I hope my story and many others’ stories similar to mine will open minds, as we are given the opportunity to use our abilities. We all have abilities, whether we live with a disability or not, and we all should have equal opportunity to share them and use them.”

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