How My Trike Makes Me Feel 'Free and Alive' After a Brain Injury

​I am Gary Nagel, and I am one of The Mighty, a brain injury survivor. I grew up on a dairy farm in rural Wisconsin and enjoyed farming, but what I really wanted to do from a young age was own a small business. I decided to study business and accounting, and paid for my first year of college by selling the eggs from 100 hens I owned. That was a lot of eggs! My passion for many years was running businesses and doing outdoor activities like camping with my son, cross-country skiing, playing basketball, chopping wood, plowing snow with my tractor, and playing with my dogs.

In September of 2013, I had a severe brain injury, and it felt like everything was taken away from me. My body no longer cooperated, and I couldn’t do most of the things I used to be able to do. So many days at the rehabilitation center and at home, I wanted to just give up; everything was so hard! But I am an overcomer, so I decided to keep on truckin’! I have always felt I had something to give and share with others; now I would just have to figure out how to do it in a different way.

A year after my brain injury, my wife helped me find my new passion: riding a TerraTrike, which I named The Scorpion. The first time I rode my recumbent trike, I felt so free and alive! I did a test ride in a big, empty parking lot, and I zipped around shouting and singing. My wife and I were crying because we were both so happy. When I ride my trike, people are intrigued by my cool “ride,” and I am just a cyclist like everyone else, not “a guy with disabilities.”

Gary on his trike, racing in the Special Olympics
Gary racing in the Special Olympics.

I set goals for riding my trike, so I joined Special Olympics in Wyoming and won a silver medal in the 1,000 meters at our state competition. Last summer my goal was to ride to our local general store for a latte (good motivation!); it was 2.5 miles of dirt road, hills, and some pavement and traffic. I made it, no problem, and enjoyed drinking my latte on the patio of the Etna Trading Company, my brother-in-law’s small business. As of today, I have ridden over 200 miles on my trike in rain, snow, wind, and sunshine!

Whenever I would ride The Scorpion, I longed for others in my situation to experience how great it feels to ride a trike. I decided to start a charity and do projects to raise money to buy trikes for people who can’t afford one. I want to raise enough money to donate 5 trikes to others with brain injury. I am happy to say that this summer, I will donate my first trike to someone who had a stroke and has mobility challenges like mine. Doing these projects fills me with a sense of purpose, and it gives me a reason to get out of bed each day, even when my body hurts so much and my brain feels foggy. I know my life can still make a difference for others, and I feel God has a purpose and a future for me.

Gary riding his trike on a trail through the prairie.
Gary riding his trike on a trail through the prairie.

Being physically active is extremely important after a brain injury, and it helps me develop my coordination, strength, and attention skills. But most importantly, it’s fun and helps me feel healthy and positive. I get to be outdoors in the fresh air, and share time with the people I love, my family and friends who walk or ride alongside me. Someday, I hope to have a therapy dog named Turbo, and she can come on my rides, too.

Every day, I remember that even though everything changed after my brain injury, I still have lots of abilities, and I am still me! I love to help people overcome obstacles and have hope, so I am going to use all my abilities to do just that. Be The Mighty!

Gary enjoying a view of the mountains on his trike.
Gary enjoying a view of the mountains on his trike.

The Mighty is asking the following: What was one moment you received help in an unexpected or unorthodox way related to disability, disease or mental illness? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Brain Injury

Hand holding.

7 Ways to Support a Loved One With Traumatic Brain Injury

If someone you love is dealing with a traumatic brain injury (TBI), you may want to offer support, but not know how. As a survivor of TBI, these are my thoughts on how to support a friend or family member going through this difficult experience. Understanding traumatic brain injury begins by thinking about basic things [...]

Why My Brain Injury Has Nothing and Everything to Do With My Life Now

I was in a serious car accident 11 days after my 18th birthday in 2006. I had a brain injury, and spent six weeks in rehabilitation. I’m fine now. I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about this for a while, so I figured I would start with the facts. On the one [...]

Why a Joke Made at the Drive-Thru Wasn't Funny to Me as a Brain Injury Survivor

“First time drive-thru user?” he yelled. He burst into laughter, and I saw the rest of the crew laughing behind him. I had just pulled away from the drive-thru after paying, and noticed I had only one of the two items I had ordered. When I realized my mistake, I backed up to retrieve the [...]

When a Man Went to Great Lengths to Help Ease My Migraine Pain

The utility company. We’ve all had our bad experiences with rudeness, long holding times, waiting for them to show up to turn the service on or off. Perhaps there was a dispute over a bill. We take our utility services for granted, and we fall completely apart and start complaining when we lose them. We [...]