Introduction

Ian (at left) with his mom, Teena.
Me with my mom.

To start this blog off right, I guess I need to tell you a little about myself.  My name is Ian Mackay.  I was born and raised in San Diego, California.  In 2001 I moved to Goleta, California and attended Santa Barbara City College.  I had many interests in my early college years. I began as a business major, ended up getting an Associates degree in communication before delving into sign language for a year. Soon after, I took a field botany course and realized that my true interest was in the field of biology. I ended up moving to Santa Cruz, California and enrolled at Cabrillo College. I took almost nothing but science courses for the next few years and then transferred to UCSC.

I was fortunate to live near campus where I could bike to school and use a vehicle sparingly. Cycling was one of my preferred hobbies as well as table tennis, craft beer, nature photography, and bluegrass music. There was a wonderful bike path that went up the large hill to campus and one of my greatest joys was riding down that path daily after school. On June 4, 2008 when I was 26 years old everything changed.

I remember it was a beautiful day  and I was coming home from a study group on campus. Like every day on my ride home I was going fast down the bike path enjoying the wind in my hair. However, on this day, unbeknownst to me, there was some sand on one of the turns of the path that made me slide out and lose control. I was wearing a helmet, which most likely saved my life, and went headfirst into a tree. I never lost consciousness but soon realized while crumpled up next to that tree that I could not move my arms or legs. I was helicoptered to the nearest emergency room and was informed soon after that I had sustained a spinal cord injury (SCI).

I was able to call my family and tell them what happened. Both my parents dropped everything and immediately drove to be by my side in the hospital. Hours after the crash, swelling in the spinal cord continued to cause me to lose sensation and movement in my chest and shoulders. I soon lost the ability to breathe and was intubated and put on a ventilator. The next couple weeks are a blur. I had a long surgery where they reconstructed and fused my spine, dealt with multiple respiratory issues, and started to try and come to terms with the fact that I would be paralyzed for the rest of my life.

Once I was coherent enough to talk to a doctor they told me that I had damaged my spinal cord near the C2 vertebrate. I was now a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the neck down. The doctors performed a tracheostomy and installed a tube in my neck that I would breathe through using a ventilator. I was devastated to say the least. I had never known anyone with a spinal cord injury and had no idea what to expect and how I was supposed to live with this now useless body.

I was fortunate to end up in a hospital that had a very good SCI rehab unit. I spent two months there learning how to survive as a ventilator dependent quad. I was fitted with a power wheelchair which was controlled using a sip and puff, which is a straw that is sensitive to air pressure and can send signals to my chair. My parents were taught the ins and outs of caring for a quad so that we soon could leave the hospital and go home.

Home turned out to be Port Angeles, Washington. Getting me here was tricky and some home modifications had to be made but we eventually got settled and found a routine. The first year was brutal. I spoke little because I was uncomfortable with the speaking valve required to talk with a ventilator. I watched way too much TV and was basically mopey. I’d lost everything that I was accustomed to. I’d left my home and my friends, my school and my job, been removed from the life that I loved. I was lost, getting deeper and deeper in the dumps. Luckily  I have an incredible family that overlooked my lousy disposition and continued to support and encourage me.

Just about one year after the crash I regained enough diaphragm movement to breathe without a ventilator. This was such a huge gain. I could speak again and no longer had the stress of ventilatory failure. It was awesome. It was the beginning of me deciding to learn how to live as a paralyzed man. For the next few years I did just that. I met fellow SCI survivors who were a tremendous help. They told me to suck it up and get on with life. I saw joy and happiness in their lives and knew it was possible for myself.

Ian chats with cyclist Nancy Kohn on the Olympic Discovery Trail.
Chatting with cyclist Nancy Kohn on the Olympic Discovery Trail.

Two years or so ago, I rekindled my passion for being outdoors. The catalyst to this was getting a cellphone that was both dependable and accessible by me. Once I had a phone I could go outside and not have a caregiver or family member always by my side. As long as someone was on call I could go and start exploring my community on my own. We live blocks away from a wonderful bike path called the Olympic Discovery Trail. I soon found I could go further and further on this trail where I would see wildflowers blooming, birds migrating, and see stunning views of the Olympic Mountains. I loved it out there and soon found myself putting 10, 15, 20 miles a day on my chair. I downloaded an app called Strava which tracks your distance, route, and speed using GPS so that I can keep track of my rides. I’ve put nearly 5000 miles on my chair since then and am a well-known feature on the trails near my home.

This leads me to the present and why I started this blog. I’d like to take a lengthy wheelchair ride and perhaps benefit a good cause at the same time. Stay tuned for details.