MONROE, N.C. -- Paralyzed cyclists use hand cycles to complete the Cycle to the Sea, a 180 mile bike ride from Monroe, North Carolina to North Myrtle Beach.
Dozens of local athletes from the Charlotte area are trying to raise money and awareness for a the program that helps people with disabilities play sports. The group is part of ASAP, the Adaptive Sports and Adventures Program, ran by Carolinas Rehabilitation.
Brian Muscarella is one of the 38 riders. About half of the riders have disabilities and the rest are their friends and family.
“Out there on the road you're just pedaling and you're doing it with your hands and you're just flying down the road," Muscarella says, "It’s just such a pride, like I can do this.”
Two years ago he wasn't so sure.
A marathon runner and high level executive, Muscarella was prepping for a business trip two years ago when he realized he wasn’t feeling well.
“I started feeling some chest pain,” he said.
Muscarella suffered a rare spinal stroke that left the father of two paralyzed from the chest down.
Doctors told him, “It’s just a freak of nature, things happen. It’s just bad luck.”
That's where the cycling team name Team Freak comes from. His buddies, Tom and Dan, made the trip to North Myrtle Beach right along side him. They have been there from the beginning.
“They sat at my bedside and said we’re gonna get through this. No matter what you need, we're gonna be there for you," Muscarella said, clearly emotional. “How could I not fight this? Because I've got this team? I cannot give up. I cannot feel sorry for myself.”
His attitude is pretty much the same as everyone on the three day bike ride through the country, where every curve brings a new town.
The road is full of speed bumps and injuries. It is exhausting.
Nightfall brought a much needed break. The group grilled out in a hotel parking lot and played a game of Catch Phrase.
It was a fresh start in the morning.
The finish line was finally in sight and Muscarella's wife Carol was there.
"I'm very proud of him," she said. "I don't know that I could do it.”
Muscarella was overcome with emotion at the finish line as friends surrounded him.
“Everyone is just like wow, we did it! And just so jubilant. It's unbelievable," Muscarella said. "Another thing like, I did it and you proudly wear your shirt. Yeah, I cycled to the sea with my hands!”
The ASAP coordinator was clearly filled with pride as each of the hand cyclists and their support teams crossed the finish line.
“Don't you ever let anybody tell you that you can’t do something. Because you know what? You can. You can do whatever you want to do, anything that you want to do,” said Jennifer Moore with ASAP.
The team traveled 180 miles. It was not always a smooth ride, but it was worth every bit of the journey.
If you’d like more information about the ride, check out www.cycletothesea.org.