Man sets wheelchair world record on Sauvie Island
A Washington man in a mouth-controlled motorized wheelchair set a new world record at Sauvie Island on June 22.
Ian Mackay became paralyzed from the neck down after a bicycle crash in 2006. Starting on the summer solstice, June 21, Mackay broke the Guinness World Record for greatest distance traveled in 24 hours by mouth-controlled motorized wheelchair.
Accompanied by friends on bikes and skateboards, cheered on by Sauvie Island residents and supporters, Mackay rode 184.4 miles in 24 hours.
"Doing anything for 24 hours sounds miserable. And physically, it was extremely challenging. Emotionally, it was more challenging than I thought. But when you cross that finish line … your heart is just swelling. And it's your crew that got you through that," Mackay said. "Just that feeling of unity and shared completion of the goal is phenomenal."
The previous record was held by Chang-Hyun Choi, a South Korean man, who traveled 173.98 miles in 24 hours in April 2017.
Mackay loved nature and cycling before his accident and struggled with the loss of mobility and freedom after becoming paralyzed. But gradually, as technology advanced and Mackay connected with other survivors of spinal cord injuries, he was able to experience the outdoors again.
Mackay started his nonprofit, Ian's Ride, to promote outdoor accessibility after riding 335 miles across Washington in 2016.
"My whole nonprofit really is about just getting people outside," Mackay said. "If you want to support what we're doing, great. We need financial support all the time; we're trying to put more events on, put more people in chairs. But if you're unable to do that, go spend some time outside. It's well worth it."
Mackay's previous long rides, like his 2016 ride and a nearly 500-mile trip from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, to his home in Port Angeles, Washington, in 2018, were spread over days, with breaks and sleep. His annual Sea to Sound ride is 74 miles over three days.
"I was nervous. There was a lot that could go wrong," Mackay said of starting the 24-hour ride.
"As a high-level quad, I can't feel anything. There's pressure sores, that can be really, really devastating. That's what killed Superman," Mackay said, referring to Christopher Reeve, who was paralyzed after a horse-riding accident and later died of complications from an infection caused by a bedsore.
Mackay also can't regulate his temperature by sweating or shivering, which presents a significant risk on a 24-hour trip, when temperatures swing from day to night. Mackay's ride was perfectly timed, avoiding the rain of a few days prior and the 90-degree highs expected days later, but his temperature still had to be monitored.
Mechanical issues also were a source of concern, which Mackay's team prepared for with replacement parts at the ready and a second chair available so Mackay could keep going if his primary chair needed a quick repair. Finding the best batteries to switch out on the chair during the ride required lots of research, Mackay said.
"People want to go have adventures and people want to push their limits. But often, equipment is the limiting factor there," Mackay said.
"The entire success was because of my incredible team. I had so many amazing people behind me. And they were just carrying me along. You know, failure wasn't an option, just because there was so much support and love. And then even on the island, having residents out there, writing chalk messages on the road or being out there with noisemakers as we go around, it's really encouraging."
Celina Smith, Mackay's girlfriend, cycled alongside Mackay for the entire ride, far surpassing her own previous bike trip lengths. Josh Blaustein, or "Dr. B" as Mackay calls him, also joined Mackay for the entire ride. Blaustein was Mackay's college chemistry professor and introduced him to bike touring before his accident.
"So often people in the disability space, myself included in the early days, really focus on what what you can't do, what you've lost, if it's an injury, or just what you're not capable of. When you start thinking of what's possible, the world can open up a little bit," Mackay said. "And hey, there's a lot of fun to be had out there."
Many of his past accomplishments have been escalations, like progressively longer and longer trips. "I don't want to escalate this," Mackay said, tired but still riding the high of his accomplishment two days later.
Guinness World Records confirmed they received Mackay's application but said the organization's review process can take 12 to 15 weeks.
"This just seems like such a significant feather in my cap that I'd like to now just focus more on advocacy and the nonprofit and supporting others. I really want someone to go out and beat my record, please. … I can't wait to share with the world how we did it and our strategies and encourage others to go out and pursue their own dreams. And please, go beat my record and give me a reason to go out and do it again."
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