I remember it like it was yesterday.
The wind was in my face and adrenaline rushed through my veins as I pedaled down my driveway. In that moment, I thought I could go anywhere.
That day was my first bicycle ride without training wheels. Although my ride was short, it sparked my belief that I go where my eyes go. I imagined new possibilities to explore and realized that possibilities that were once limited by distance were suddenly within my sight. I was no longer dependent on my parents to help me get there.
As a teenager, my bicycle opened up a new world for me. It sparked dreams of racing Italian cyclists after watching the movie Breaking Away, and the French after seeing the Tour de France on television. For me, my bicycle was a portal to an undiscovered world.
After a post-college affair with running ran its course, I rekindled my relationship with cycling. But like most relationships, adversity served as the ultimate test.
The morning of July 11, 2001, was my test.
I was in New Mexico for a company meeting and decided to do a pre-work ride before dawn. The sun was rising, the wind was in my face, and I had the feeling I could go anywhere.
As I rounded a bend in the road, I suddenly faced a white SUV coming right at me, full speed. The driver had crossed into my lane traveling about 40 mph.
He hit me head-on.
I laid in a heap on the hot, desert asphalt, unable to move. After several minutes, I slowly regained consciousness and realized several emergency medical technicians were working on me. And based on their actions, I knew my condition was critical.
As I waited for the medevac, I remember willing myself not to fall asleep. I thought if I did, I would never wake up. I also promised myself that if I lived, my life would be different. I made a commitment that this would be My Last Bad Day.
Michael’s December 2016 TEDx talk about perspective: We Go Where Our Eyes Go
After I came out of the intensive care unit, I learned more about the accident and the seriousness of my injuries. My medical team told me that I would face a lifetime of limitations and dependency.
And because I believe we go where our eyes go, I became angry, worried and fearful about my future. I was afraid I had lost my freedom and independence, feelings I had discovered many years before after my first real ride on my Schwinn Pixie.
After several weeks of care in New Mexico, I was flown home to New Jersey to continue my recovery. The third hospital was where a new perspective was sparked that opened my eyes: My roommates were all recovering from quadriplegic traumas.
They helped me see what I was still able to do. Simple acts such as getting myself out of bed and into my wheelchair were out of their reach.
Like my bike, my wheelchair took me to new places inside the confines of the hospital. I explored and had control over how I spent parts of my day. So I started a new ritual. Every morning, I woke up early, rolled myself to a quiet place in the hospital and decided how I wanted to approach the day.
My routine helped me see that it was my response to my accident that would ultimately define me.
This realization gave me the optimism that fueled my recovery, got me out of my wheelchair and eventually back on my feet.
Yet, before I could clip back into my pedals, I had to undergo more surgeries, physical therapy and button pushing. Realizing every day how far I had to go to enjoy the freedom of the open road frightened me. It felt better to look away from the journey ahead than to face reality.
Eventually, my family encouraged me to try to ride again in a safe, open space. So we drove my bike to an industrial park for my first ride after My Last Bad Day.
And so, it began again, much like that first day when I boldly pedaled without my training wheels. I did a few wobbly miles, and was about as steady as I was 40 years before. I wasn’t fast or confident at first. However, I felt the wind on my face and the sweet taste of freedom again. I was inspired to leave the industrial park and head for the road.
And within seconds of turning up the road, I felt a familiar twine in the pit of my stomach. I glanced behind and what did I see? A white SUV. Universe, you got to be kidding!?!, I thought.
I closed my eyes, held my breath, and I gripped my bars as tight as possible as the SUV passed me by without incident.
I exhaled and opened my eyes to the open road ahead of me. In that instant, riding my bike again was no longer a goal; it became my new reality. So each day I tried to ride a little bit longer and pedal faster until I could return to my local group rides and racing.
In 2014, cycling helped me see something new: World Bicycle Relief.
During a group ride, Sandy Chapman, the local SRAM and Assos representative, shared his story about why World Bicycle Relief inspired him.
After the ride, I got home, turned on my computer and discovered how World Bicycle Relief was expanding people’s worlds through the Power of the Bicycle. I made my first donation and became a member.
This July, to celebrate The Year of the Bicycle and the anniversary of My Last Bad Day, I’m releasing my new memoir, Shift: Creating Better Tomorrows: Winning at Work and in Life. It’s the story of my accident, my recovery, and the importance of perspective, grit and a strong peloton.
And all the profits from the sale of the book are going to World Bicycle Relief so they can help others see what is possible when healthcare, education and commerce are within sight.
After all, we go where our eyes go.
On July 11, 2001, I told myself life would be different. My accident helped me change my perspective by opening up to new possibilities for every aspect of my life.
My hope is that Shift will help others change their lives, and that you will join me for the ride.
Ride safe. Keep pedaling.