Despite needing a cane as a result of a broken back and spinal cord injury suffered nearly 25 years ago, Kelly McCall next month will start the longest and most challenging journey of her life. Thirty-three hundred miles on a hand cycle.
The 44-year-old unemployed north Scottsdale woman has signed up for the American Lung Association of Washington’s Big Ride Across America. It’s a 12-state trip from June 25 to Aug. 11 to raise funds for the group. McCall found out about the event through an Internet news group.
“I had to talk them into it,” McCall said of organizers’ initial skepticism. “I have pretty good use of my upper legs. I’m strong. I’m training harder and harder every day. I can do this.”
Organizers said McCall will be the first rider to use a hand cycle since the Washington chapter took over the event from its national counterpart in 2003.
A hand cycle is a low bike with two large wheels in back and one in front powered by hand and arm motion, rather than legs.
McCall has paraparesis, a partial paralysis affecting both legs, the result of a 20-foot tumble during a mountain hike in Connecticut soon after she turned 20 years old.
“I was a total tomboy,” Mc-Call said with a wide grin. “What do you think I was doing up in a tree when I fell on that hike?”
Doctors told McCall she’d never walk again. She scoffed at the diagnosis and regained some use of her legs after about a week. McCall, who has been riding a hand cycle for three years, said she can motor up to 30 mph. Watching Mc-Call zip around the streets in her neighborhood on Tuesday, it’s apparent the lady won’t let anything stand in her way.
McCall may not make the entire trip if she doesn’t raise the required $5,500 entry donation. She has $890 as of Wednesday. According to association spokesman Paul Payton, event manager Bridgett Herzog said if McCall comes up short of the requirement she can ride part of the trip, make a shorter trek at a different site, or continue raising money before next year’s event.
“I entered it and if I didn’t complete it, I’d be ashamed,” McCall said. “The only thing I may say I can’t do is make it up a particular hill.”
McCall added that part of her training has been in the McDowell and Usery mountains; she believes she can climb to at least 800 feet.
The association will provide food, water and other necessities to all riders, but its support vehicle can’t accommodate a hand cycle. So, McCall’s parents will drive along as her support team; she has to foot the bill for their lodging and food.
“I’m going to meet up with the group,” McCall said. “Because of my disability, they don’t want to wait for me. They have legs; I have arms.”
McCall, whose previous long ride has been 60 miles, admits an average of 83 miles per day will be a challenge. She thinks eight break days scattered throughout the race will help and is sure of her ability.
“I’m always confident I can do something, even if I haven’t done it before,” she said. “Friends look at me and say, ‘Why this?’ I tell them that it’s going to be fun for me. I’ll get to see parts of the country I may never get to. And, I’ll get way more of a workout on my hand cycle.”
McCall took up hand cycling as a form of exercise after her injury and rode in tandem with her former husband.
“Biking wasn’t a big sport of mine as a child,” McCall said. “I was into softball, volleyball and other things. I went to a place in Phoenix to learn to ride a hand cycle. It was like, ‘Wow, I can do this!’ I found a used hand cycle. Now, it’s my main form of exercise, just about every day. I even go to Downtown Scottsdale on it.”
McCall said one of the biggest challenges with a hand cycle is that it has a larger turning radius than a regular bike. She enjoys the twists and turns of Scottsdale streets but realizes she’ll face conditions far more challenging than those on her home turf during this trek.
“We’re spoiled in Scottsdale with all the paths and bike lanes,” she said. “Cross-country, I know I’m going to run into some difficult times. I wonder what it’s going to be like having to ride with an 18-wheeler next to me.
“I’m going to look back when I’m old and be proud of this,” she said.
MCall’s Web site, www.mrsnv.com/evt/e01/part.jsp?rid=624046&id=1061&acct=4903067686, has more information.