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Wheelchair-User Embarks on Trek Along Great American Rail-Trail

Accessibility advocate Ian Mackay is traveling 475 miles via power wheelchair on the easternmost portion of the Great American Rail-Trail. He hopes his outdoor mission will raise awareness of the importance of and the need for more access to the outdoors, especially for people with mobility impairments and other disabilities. MacKay is the founder of Ian’s Ride, a nonprofit that advocates for more accessible trails across the country.
Supporters of Ian’s Ride, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) and the United Spinal Association (USA) came together on September 21, 2022, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to cheer on Mackay’s start of the lengthy trek.
map of Great American Rail-Trail
(Rail-Trail Conservatory)

Who is Ian Mackay?

In 2008, Mackay suffered a spinal cord injury caused by a bike crash; the injury resulted in paralysis. Ever since, the avid outdoorsman has relied on a power wheelchair and accessible trails to stay connected to nature and the cycling community.

Through his nonprofit Ian’s Ride, he raises awareness of accessible trails across the country. As it turns out, Mackay’s trek on the Great American Rail-Trail isn’t his first attempt at outdoor greatness. You see, Mackay recently broke a Guinness World Record for the farthest distancemore than 184 milesin 24 hours on a mouth-controlled power wheelchair!

“Early in recovery from my injury, access to the outdoors brought me joy when I couldn’t find it elsewhere. The Great American Rail-Trail is a great example of infrastructure designed for people of all abilities and I’m so excited to get my wheels on the easternmost 475 miles of it,” said Mackay.

The complete Rail-Trail spans 3,700 miles between Washington, D.C. and Washington State—Mackay’s home state.

Support of Accessible Trails

Mackay says his philosophy is: “Community is the answer, we are stronger together and nature is the best medicine.” And his sentiment is shared by others.

“We are thrilled to cheer on Ian as he sets off along the Great American Rail-Trail,” said Kevin Belanger, RTC’s project manager for the Great American Rail-Trail. “The cross-country Great American Rail-Trail will provide direct access to trails and the outdoors for 50 million people within 50 miles of the trail across 3,700 miles between Washington, D.C. and Washington State. We hope it serves as an inspiration for what is possible when we prioritize accessibility in creating and connecting outdoor infrastructure.”

Ian Mackay on a nature trail
(Twitter)

Mackay’s ride on the Great American Rail-Trail comes as several priorities are being pursued in Congress. RTC is championing funding for the Active Transportation Infrastructure Investment Program, which would provide focused investment for connecting trail and active transportation infrastructure, creating seamless routes for walking, biking and wheelchair use that is separated from vehicle traffic. Additionally, the United Spinal Association is pushing for legislation to lift Medicare’s “in-the-home” rule, which restricts Medicare coverage of wheelchairs and wheelchair components that are designed to function outside of a person’s home, including outdoor environments.

“We are incredibly proud of Ian as he highlights outdoor accessibility, which is a topic that so many of our members are passionate about,” said Steve Lieberman, Director of Advocacy and Policy for the United Spinal Association. “Our Outdoor Access Working Group has brought together wheelchair users across the country to advocate for greater accessibility in built infrastructure and natural infrastructure, to seek greater availability and better maintenance of adaptive equipment to enjoy the outdoors, and to continue to promote outdoor recreational opportunities among our community of wheelchair users across the United States. Ian continues to set the bar higher for all of us.”

Beginning Tale of Mackay’s Rail-Trail

At September’s kickoff event, Mackay and Belanger were joined by Monica Wiley, D.C. Chapter Advocacy Coordinator, United Spinal Association; Jeremy Buzzell, National Accessibility Program Team Coordinator, National Park Service; and Juliette Rizzo, RTC board member, disability advocate and former Ms. Wheelchair America. Dozens of supporters also were in attendance to celebrate Mackay’s ride. Plus, many supporters rode alongside him in wheelchairs and on bikes from the National Mall to the C&O Canal Towpath trailhead in Georgetown. And Mackay is set to welcome and be joined by members of the public and other advocates throughout portions of the ride.

Mackay is slated to complete his awareness-focused trek on October 4, 2022. To follow his daily progress, visit iansride.com/great-american-rail-trail.

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Nancy DeVaulthttps://www.ameridisability.com
Nancy is the managing editor of AmeriDisability. She is an award-winning storyteller passionate about health and happiness.

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