Ian Mackay was born and raised in San Diego, California. In 2001 he moved
to Goleta, California and attended Santa Barbara City College. He had many
interests in his early college years, beginning as a business major, and ending
up getting an Associates degree in communication before delving into sign
language for a year. Soon after, he took a field botany course and realized
that his true interest was in the field of biology. He ended up moving to Santa
Cruz, California and enrolled at Cabrillo College. He took almost nothing but
science courses for the next few years and then transferred to UCSC.
Ian was fortunate to live near campus where he could bike to school and use
a vehicle sparingly. Cycling was one of his 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 his
greatest joys was riding down that path daily after school. On June 4, 2008
when he was 26 years old everything changed.
In Ian’s words:
“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 three 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.
Four years or so after the injury, 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 10,
000 miles on my chair since then and am a well-known feature on the trails
near my home.”
All of this lead to a desire to take a lengthy wheelchair ride and perhaps
benefit a good cause at the same time....