AVON PARK, Fla. (AP) — Rich Dixon calls his long cycling rides “crazy projects” on a “crazy bike,” as he spreads a message of what is possible with hope and a dream.
Dixon, a paraplegic, took a break from his current project — a 1,000-mile cycling trip in the Sunshine State — to talk to the staff and clients at Ridge Area Arc, which serves individuals with developmental and other disabilities.
Sitting in a wheelchair, Dixon first prompted some laughs as he introduced the most “popular” member of his team, his Labrador retriever service dog “Monte” and then the “best looking” team member, his wife, Becky.
He explained to his audience of 100 that he is doing these “crazy projects” to show people they should not to listen to anyone who says they can’t do something.
Dixon fell from a roof while hanging Christmas lights 25 years ago, fracturing three vertebrae in his neck that left him paralyzed from the chest down at the age of 36.
Five weeks after the injury he couldn’t push his wheelchair 10 feet without stopping in the hospital corridor.
He didn’t want to and he didn’t care to make the effort.
“I felt like it wasn’t worth going forward,” he remembered.
He wasted a decade in self-pity, convinced that nothing useful remained.
Then he had a change in heart.
Now, the handicapped symbol means he gets a great parking space, not that he has limited ability, he said.
Getting to that mindset was not easy.
“It doesn’t happen overnight,” he said. “There is no easy button when facing a challenge. Because it is hard doesn’t mean you can’t do it, but you can and I’m proof of that.”
Things got better once he found hope and started working hard, Dixon said.
Dixon said his physical therapist told him he could do 10,000 things before the accident. Now, there are 2,000 things he can’t do, but he was told to focus on the 8,000 things he can.
In 1999, 12 years after his injury, Dixon’s friends wanted him to try a hand cycle.
Showing a slide of a competitive paraplegic cycler with muscular arms, Dixon joked that he wanted to give it a try with the hope that in three weeks he, too, would have big and muscular arms.
Two years ago, he traveled 1,500 miles in eight weeks alongside the entire length of the Mississippi River from north to south on his recumbent hand-operated three-wheel cycle.
This past summer, Dixon cycled 500 miles from Cincinnati to Washington, D.C., and currently he is 600 miles into a 1,000-mile ride from Jacksonville to south Florida, across the Tamiami Trail and back north to conclude in Tallahassee.
“Can a dream come true?” he asked. “Yes, this was a blast. If he gave up he would have missed it.
“This isn’t about me. Your dreams can come true, too. You just can’t quit. You just have to keep working hard.”
The best way to help yourself is to help someone else, Dixon said. “I have received more courage from you than I’ve given to you.”
Dixon and Becky have been married since 2002 and live in Fort Collins, Colo.
As Dixon cycles, Becky follows in a vehicle towing a trailer with supplies and repair parts.
Following Dixon’s talk, a question brought Becky to the microphone who said her husband is a “pretty amazing guy who has overcome a lot. He made the right decisions.”
Dixon has written two books, “Rich’s Ride” and “Relentless Grace.”
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.