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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.

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