Last year, while waiting for his wife and son to return from their trek up Stone Mountain, Michael Mills noticed something on the faces of the people who had finished the journey.
"Every time I saw people come down they had a smile on their face," Mills recalled.
Mills, a father of three and an athlete who was paralyzed from the waist down after a car accident in 1993, decided he would not only challenge himself by doing the climb -- which he plans to do this Saturday -- but raise money for the charity Bert's Big Adventure as well. He said he'll be the first paralyzed person to climb Stone Mountain.
Mills told himself: "You know what? Mike, you can do this. There's no reason you can't do this."
Also, Mills said, this is a way of giving back. After the accident, in which his car was struck head-on by a drunk driver, a dedicated band of people helped out by building onto his parents' home.
Saturday's climb will also "raise awareness of how people with disabilities can be athletes," said Mills, who is also training for the Spartan Sprint in Conyers in March and the Goruck Challenge in May in downtown Atlanta.
Mills won't be alone as he makes the rocky crawl, which he'd like to accomplish in two hours. A group of 15-20 people will be climbing with him and challenging themselves, too. Options include carrying 45 pounds of sand, going up blindfolded with a guide, etc. One participant, Jennifer Marciante of Lawrenceville, will be carrying a tire and a 20 pound bag of sand.
"As an athlete I train hard which sometimes leads to injury. When I’m told I need to repair and take off 6-8 weeks, the pain in my heart hurts worse than anything. I’d cry, complain, place blame, etc. Then, I look at Michael who has no use of his legs, yet it doesn’t stop him from being the best athlete he could be," Marciante, office manager with the Kidney Care Group (Loganville Dialysis Center) said through e-mail correspondence.
"Actually, it doesn’t stop him from doing much of anything. He makes the absolute best of what he does have instead of what he doesn’t have. He truly inspires me. Since this is a big challenge for him, I too wanted to challenge myself by carrying up a tire and a 20lb sandbag. I’m looking forward to supporting him at Stone Mountain and share in his excitement when he reaches the top," she said.
Mills set a goal to raise $20,000 for Bert's Big Adventure by March 9, the date of the Spartan Sprint.
As of Thursday, $700 had been raised. He knew the goal was lofty, but he said he doesn't do anything halfway.
After the accident, Mills said people told him he would "never do this, never do that. Well, I've done it," he said. "Disability is strictly in your mind."