By Chris Magerl — Michael Ray wants to inspire others. To motivate them to work harder. To set goals and accomplish them. Whether in the gym or out on the road on his bike, he is pleased when people thank him for giving them that motivation.
Ray rides pretty much with one functional leg, and virtually no control of the right side of his body. Ray, 50, had a debilitating stroke in 2013. He started cycling at the National Ability Center in Park City in 2015, and that year completed the 18 mile route of the Summit Challenge, the Ability Center bicycle tour. Last year, he did the 52 mile route. Ray was out for 9.5 hours, surrounded by family, coaches and supporters. Pedaling solo in a three-wheeled recumbent, Ray completed the journey around Park City, out to Kamas over a 3.1 mile, 625 foot climb past the Jordanelle overlook (“Grueling,” Ray said) and finished with a 2.8 mile, 529 foot climb up Browns Canyon.
Sure it was challenging, but not crushing. “I don’t think I had a moment that was low,” said Ray.
Ray, who lives in Orem, was an international businessman, doing work in 13 countries, when he had his stroke. He and his wife, Lynette Ray, were aware of the Ability Center after the stroke, but thought it would be too expensive. Ray was unable to work, and everything had changed. Then the mother of another stroke victim told them to ask about financial aid. With that help, the Rays were able to make the Ability Center a part of their life. And the Ability Center changed their life.
The skills and confidence Ray found through the Ability Center has translated into greater independence. The Rays credit motor skills developed through Ability Center programs with helping Ray regain his driver license, an important step toward returning to a life of independence.
Lynette Ray found a special gift in the way the Ability Center incorporated the entire family. She accompanies Ray on almost every Ability Center bike session in the summer. The Rays and their children have spent time all together at the Ability Center. “The winter family camp was a wonderful break for me,” said Lynette Ray, “but as a family, we got to do an activity together. As a family we can participate. I don’t know of any place other that the NAC that does that.”
Ray started at the Ability Center on a tandem recumbent with coach Alex Mendelson. But quickly Ray was able to transition to a solo recumbent, after Mendelson saw that Ray was able to control shifting and braking functions with his left hand (his non-dominant hand pre-stroke), on a bike that was modified to fit Ray’s needs.
The Summit Challenge was not Ray’s idea. “Alex suggested it,” Ray said. Did Ray think it was a good idea? “Absolutely.”
At that first Summit Challenge, Ray had no doubts. “I knew I was going to get home. I relish doing it because I want to accomplish my goals. ”
Mendelson said that completing the first Summit Challenge with Ray was emotional, including the finish where all of the Ray family was waiting to surprise him. “It was monumental,” said Mendelson, who also was quick to add that he was not surprised that Ray completed the ride. “It is just the way he is wired. We set these high goals. He said that he HAS TO do it, not that he wants to do it.”
“None of this is for him,” said Mendelson. “For Michael, his family needs him to get better.”
Ray is not sure who suggested the 52-mile Summit Challenge ride. Perhaps Lynette.
That was a very big jump. The 52-mile route is more than 2.8 times the length, and more than 4 times the vertical, with two very significant climbs.
Mendelson had no doubts about the big step up. “Never. Not even a drop,” said Mendelson. This despite Ray’s longest day on a bike being a 30 mile ride.
“Alex took us out and we rode Browns twice before the event,” said Ray. “They showed us the map and we said OK.”
For this year, Ray is planning to do same 52 mile route for the Summit Challenge, but with the goal of doing it in 6 hours, more than 50 percent faster than last year. In addition to upping his Ability Center cycling training to two days a week in the summer, Ray has been taking part in the Ability Center equestrian program, and has recently been able to stand in the stirrups and control the reigns with his right arm. He is also swimming with the Ability Center.
Ray also rides with the Wasatch Adaptive Sports program one day a week in the summer. He would love to ride on his own on the excellent non-motorized, paved trail system in Utah County, but he does not have his own bike. Recumbents are expensive specialty items that usually cost more than $2,000. For now, Ray has to limit his rides to the Ability Center or Wasatch Adaptive.
Reed Wycoff, another Ability Center coach who trained with Ray last year and rode the final third of the Summit Challenge with him, sees the 6-hour goal as doable. “He is a rider a lot of people here are really impressed with,” said Wycoff. “He puts in the work. And he is already way ahead of where he was last year.”
Before sporting accomplishments, Ray first mentions an essential gain that came from his time at the Ability Center. Talking. The stroke affected Ray’s ability to speak. “They are not in a hurry. They are patient while I find my words,” Ray said of the Ability Center staff. “The Ability Center provided social interaction in a way that is a positive experience.”
Cycling, swimming, horse back riding, completing the Summit Challenge, this gives Ray something to talk about with former business colleagues. It helps them stay engaged in his life.
But riding a bike is not the end goal. “I need the challenges of the course because I want all of the people to know that I am determined to get back to myself, ” said Ray. “I want to go back to work again. Cycling is a step toward getting back to work.”