Mike Reynolds on nature, accessibility, and freestyle biking
This story was a collaboration between Mike Reynolds and NBEC's Stories for Change working group.
Interviewer: Sikwani Dana. Audio producer: Aubrey Calaway. Photographer: Nirmala Young.
Transcriber: Sarah Madronal. Editors: Kalisto Nanen, Serena Blasius, and Audrey Cole.
Story coordinators: Tessa Shanteler and Emily Weyrauch. Music from Blue Dot Sessions.
My name is Mike Reynolds. I am 49 years old. I am a disabled, gay man from Lewiston, Maine. I've lived in Maine all of my life. I've been disabled since birth, due to an injury at birth. It affects every part of my body. I can't work full time. I'm independent and I can live alone, but I am very lucky. I've been around the country a lot. I've seen a lot of things. I've been very lucky.
My mother was a stay-at-home daycare parent. We had woods in the backyard that we would go into and get lost into every day for my entire childhood up until age 8 when my parents split. Then at 10, I went to Pine Tree Camp, which is a camp for disabled adults. And it's incredible; it absolutely saved my life! I was always around other kids with disabilities, counselors, other staff members.
I could always go fishing, canoeing, boating, or walking around, drawing in my sketchbook. You know, poetry writing, readings, that sort of thing. But Pine Tree Camp was really pivotal because I think I actually saw my first person doing freestyle biking, working at Pine Tree Camp and then like next year extending me and all my next-door neighbors into doing it. I really wanted to freestyle bike, so somehow, I got the money to trade parts or something, and borrowed a friend’s bike, learned tricks, and then like before I knew it I had a bike.
I wrote a letter into a magazine and they published it--about how I rode and was disabled they published it in a national magazine. Some kid with cerebral palsy in New York, his parents got a hold of me through my junior high or something and then we called them. And suggested that we do a contest in New Jersey. I was like thirteen riding in national contests, which was amazing! I had never been outside of south of Boston. And from that I was hooked! I started competing I still, you know, go contests to this day.
Somebody said to me when I first started that you can't ride because you're disabled. But I knew I can, so I just had to learn all the tricks. I got really good. I can actually beat experts. I can beat able-bodied people. There was no disabled class. There still isn't. I kind of wish it was I mean, that's the thing–I'm the first disabled free styler in the world.
I went to college, and I was around a beautiful, beautiful woods. As an English major, I did a lot of reading in school. In college I used to read outside all the time. I went to the University of Maine at Orono, because there was outdoors, and we were away from the city so I could go on my bike. That was a big reason, and my sister went there. My first night there I saw a deer on campus. I was like 'yeah, okay; I made the right decision. Great,' so I kind of said, 'Yeah, you made the right decision, you're seeing deer on campus' as I'm riding my bike around. It's pretty cool. In Maine, you're around this beauty all the time. So, if you take an hour and you're in Bar Harbor from Orono, so you go to Bar Harbor and on the carriage roads on your bike. You can do something like that and still get dinner and go back to campus and you know, work, and do stuff like that.
I go to nature to relax. So, I think nature is a place where I find calm. I find a place to go relax or to go work out stress or go drive. Being able to go outside and just, you know, have the wind in your face, maybe a good conversation with friends or an experience or emotional connection or something that's made there–walking along my street or going to the beach or anything really.
It's weird because nature shouldn't be in the streets but I totally think it does. To where it like makes part of the streets lined with natural obstacle courses. And growing up in a small town that makes for, a lot of room to change street culture and stuff like that, I am grateful for everywhere I have access to. My disability has gotten worse, I got a wheelchair 23 years ago. So, I've got to look at accessibility that way, from my own eyes.
Maine has some great, great trails that are all accessible because they're all--State Parks are all pretty accessible ones. I wish people would know that accessibility is a lot more than just what is in the law. But also the spirit of what the law is. If you're going to be doing a community event, have a person with a disability. Have several people with several different types of disabilities telling you how to get with–so maybe ask chronic fatigue syndrome or somebody who has some mental illness or someone else who has other disabilities have to bring for issues. No one person can know it all, so just having a welcoming attitude is the best thing of all.
I guess the first big contest that I went to, my New England contest series in '88 was right after I had my nose broken and had to have reconstructive surgery when I was a kid. And I had to go six weeks off riding a bike. And then, like a week and a half before the contest, I got my bike back and I didn't care. Well, I ended up tying for third against people who were able-bodied, and I never thought I would be that good, at all. And that was out of all the people in New England in my age group. It was a pretty amazing thing. And I just think about it whenever I get stressed things–and biking is definitely the thing that definitely helps me you out. There’s always the parking lot and there's always wind in my hair, and music in the background or you hear kids in the distance, cars rushing by on the street, but I'm always in the parking lot riding my bike. It's like the best thing in the world to me.
Note: After the recording, Mike clarified that he ended up with fourth place after a runoff when he tied for third in the New England contest series in 1988.
This story was created and published in August-October 2023