Adversity fuels man's competitive spirit

Thursday, October 16, 2008
Brian Mitchell discovered the sport of handcycling after he was paralyzed in a dirt bike accident eight years ago and now competes in national cycling events. Mitchell, whose parents are natives of Barry County, follows an intense training regime. This year, he is on track to log 2,400 miles.

At age 44 Brian Mitchell has led an extraordinary life, going further than the average person ever dares to journey. But what makes his story all the more special is that he has done it all without the use of his legs.

Mitchell was paralyzed following a dirt bike riding accident on Nov. 21, 1998. For Mitchell, an athlete his whole life, such an injury was hard to accept at first. Mitchell had qualified three times for the state swimming competitions in high school and was an active participant in basketball, running, softball and waterskiing for many years.

The accident initially forced him to give up an aspect of his life that provided an "escape" from the pressures of work and daily life.

"People don't realize what a gift a healthy body truly is," said Mitchell. "There's no amount of money I wouldn't give to get my legs back."

After the initial shock and mental anguish subsided, Mitchell began to look for alternative methods of physical activity that he could do with his handicap.

About eight years ago, Mitchell discovered a new hobby in handcycling, and within four years he became a competitor in national cycling events, sometimes racing against people on bicycles who have no disabilities whatsoever.

Handcycling gave him the ability to interact with able-bodied people and share experiences with others who have suffered the same type of injuries he has.

Soon Mitchell was living a very active lifestyle and achieving more than he ever thought possible. This past year alone, he has competed in many events, including the National Road Race, where he came in second.

Mitchell also did very well in the Kansas City Corporate Challenge where he placed 28th out of 81 contestants in an event that featured able-bodied and disabled competitors.

Most recently, he competed in Indianapolis where he accomplished what he calls his "most memorable win yet." Mitchell placed first overall, gaining the top score in the road race, the time trial and the criterium course, which is a contest involving laps.

"I was able to beat the guy who placed first in the National Road Race at Indy," said Mitchell.

To stay on top of his game, Mitchell follows a very intense training routine. This year he has already logged 1,900 miles and is on pace to reach the distance of 2,400 miles by the end of the year.

Besides cycling, Mitchell has found various other ways to remain physically active. He has been able to participate in rock climbing, and he still enjoys getting into the water from time to time.

Not only that, but Mitchell also enjoys training others how to waterski.

Aside from being an excellent athlete, Mitchell also stays very busy working for the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) where he has worked since May of 1987. His job has allowed him to help many people including hurricane victims following the devastation of Katrina.

At home Mitchell is constantly busy doing many common household tasks.

"I change my brakes and oil on my car, and I also mow the lawn on my riding mower" says Mitchell, who also enjoys improving his home, putting in flooring and completing several other tasks that could just as easily be done by professionals.

Overall Mitchell has regained stability and happiness in his life but he says there are still times that people don't know how to take him.

"People look at you differently when you're in a wheelchair," Mitchell said. "Sometimes people look at you and only see your disability. They don't really know how much it takes to do what I do.

"It is weird to have your legs there and yet you can't feel them," said Mitchell. "You can touch them and feel them with your hands but your legs and feet feel nothing at all. There's nothing at that point that you wouldn't give just to be able to walk again. It makes you think about what is really valuable in life."

Still, Mitchell says that he tries to stay focused and positive, and he is very proud of the fact that he "surprises a lot of people on his handcycle." He says he is very thankful for what he has and he never forgets to thank God for all of the good things in his life.

"Most people truly don't realize how blessed they are until they have lost what they have," Mitchell said.

Perhaps the thing that Mitchell is most thankful for above all else is what he considers to be his greatest achievement in life: his attitude.

Mitchell is the son of Dale Mitchell, an Exeter High School graduate, and Bette Mitchell, a Cassville High School graduate. He is also the grandson of Wilma Cantwell, of Cassville, the late Clida Cantwell, formerly of Cassville, and the late Dolly and Homer Mitchell, former residents of the Mineral Springs area.

In addition, Mitchell is the nephew of Bob Cantwell, Beverly Ledenham and Brenda Epperly, all of Cassville. Brian lives with his wife, Gina, in Lee's Summit.

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