DERIDDER, LA (KPLC) - Cross country travelers are common in this part of the country, but there's something different about Mark Stephan who landed in DeRidder last night. He's a quadriplegic.
As a child, Stephan was diagnosed with a degenerative bone marrow disease, forcing him into a wheel chair. But that was only temporary.
Just over four years ago, Stephan's life changed forever, after what he calls a catastrophic accident. Doctors said he would be wheelchair bound for the second time in his life. But a severe spinal cord injury couldn't keep him down, as he is on day 50 of a 75 day journey bicycling across the country.
His prognosis: paralyzed from the neck down, no sensation and really no hope of that changing. But Stephan pushed the prognosis aside, determined to make a better one for himself.
"I realized that if I kept going and working hard, then more was possible," said Stephan. "So from the original prognosis of nothing from the neck down for the rest of my life, I'm in DeRidder, Louisiana with two thousand miles under my belt on a tricycle. So it feels pretty good."
He's now cycling across the country, a lifelong dream.
"It wasn't going to be the way I had originally planned it, but it just shows that you can still do a lot of things that you may not think you can," said Stephan. "That's one lesson I've learned in the last 50 days on the road."
Standing after the accident was very emotional, but he checked goal one off his list.
"Once I knew I could stand, I knew I could walk," said Stephan. "Once I knew I could walk, I knew I could ambulate on my own. Once I could take a turn on a wheel of bicycle indoors, I knew this might be possible."
And so it is. Doctors are very surprised by Stephan's progress.
"He's such a strong believer in overcoming any obstacle that's put in front of him," said project manager Lincoln Baker. "He's been told he'd never walk again, he's walking. He's been told he probably couldn't ride a bike, he's riding a bike."
Even after a dramatic accident in Texas. A truck hit a safety car traveling behind the cycling group. The car skidded into the group, hitting several bicyclists including Stephan. But he wasn't hurt.
"I'm already injured," said Stephan. "It's like what else can they do to me."
"He's human will embodied in 170 pounds of moving across the ground at 7 mph across the country," said Baker. "It's beautiful."
Stephan says he's still learning what he's capable of.
"I think anything you do in life, surround yourself with people who believe in you, positively minded people," said Stephan. "When someone tells you 'no,' you keep looking until you find someone who can tell you 'yes.'
They've already biked around two thousand miles but have around one thousand left. Occasionally, family and friends will fly down to ride with the crew for a day or two. A trailer travels with them carrying 16 bikes and a motorcycle on board.
Stephan also has a nightly caregiver. Since he can't feel anything below his neck, he doesn't know if he gets a scratch or cut. The caregiver checks his skin to make sure he remains healthy.
This isn't his first dramatic feat either. His first? Climbing the over one hundred stories of the Sears Tower. Doctors told him it wasn't possible, but he's now done it three times.
They have several sponsors along the trek including SRAM, BP, Atlantis, Cliff Bar, Cool Shirt and The Safety Store.
The crew tries to travel around 40 miles per day but traveled 60 yesterday. The crew's next destination is Breaux Bridge. They plan to experience a little bit of the Cajun culture before continuing on their way. Their final destination will be St. Augustine, Florida, which they hope to reach in about 25 days.
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