Oct 17, 2012 6:32 AM by Danielle Lerner
It has been a little more than 14 years since doctors told George Hammel he would never walk again. A spinal injury put the former professional motocross rider in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down. However Hammel never accepted that diagnosis and after years of physical therapy and rehab, he is not only walking again, he is taking on the long course at this year's El Tour de Tucson.
Hammel has always pushed the limits, breaking dozens of bones and taking plenty of falls. He even got back on a motorcycle as a paraplegic. It is a character trait he now hopes can carry him further than anyone ever expected.
Cameras were rolling during Hammel's final motocross ride in 2010, when he crashed and broke his back for a third and final time. The injury forced him to trade his motorcycle boots for cycling shoes.
"I can't bend my ankles at all," said Hammel. "I don't have any hamstrings, glutes or anything because all of it is numb and doesn't actually move."
He does, however, have use of his quadriceps.
"I can't run, I can't walk fast, it's so much easier to sit down on a bicycle and pedal," Hammel tells News 4 Tucson.
Easy is a relative term. Hammel says he has about 1/16th the power of an able-bodied rider. Still, on a whim he tried and finished the 42-mile course at last year's El Tour de Tucson, renewing his passion for competition.
"It didn't make any difference whether I was paralyzed or not, I was still out there doing the same thing that they were and it meant the world to me," he said.
This year he has upped the goal, to ride 111 miles in under eight hours. It is a feat he hopes will inspire others to strive for the impossible.
"I always tell people my fingertips hurt because I'm trying so hard, so it's going to be a pretty grueling eight hours but I really, really put like every ounce of my soul to be able to push as hard as I can," said Hammel.
Hard to believe but Hammel is also working toward an even bigger goal right now. He has a spot in California's 70.3Ironman competition next year. That is more than a one-mile swim, a 56-mile bike and a half-marathon run.