Covington athlete Michael Mills loves challenges that some may think impossible for a man who is paralyzed below the waist. He's already known locally for competing in extreme obstacle-course races. Now he wants to set a new Guinness World Record by pulling a 5,000-pound SUV the distance of a football field-while in his wheelchair.
Mills has been practicing for the April 18 feat in a Rockdale County parking lot, among other places. He tells the News that he not only got Guinness to give him a shot-he actually convinced them to create the "heaviest SUV pulled by a wheelchair" category itself.
"I don't take no for an answer. I always find a way," Mills said, explaining that Guinness at first declined because it had no solo wheelchair records. "I said, ‘You make the rule, I'll prove you wrong.'"
Mills, 38, will attempt the truck-pulling record at the Festivus Games - an amateur sports competition - at CrossFit Etowah in Woodstock. Just as important to Mills, a husband and father of three, is that the feat doubles as a fundraiser for Bert's Big Adventure, which provides Disney World trips to children with chronic or terminal illnesses.
When Mills was paralyzed, the town he's from helped raise money for his mom and dad so they could keep their home. Mills says he would've been in a nursing home if it weren't for them. Their kindness generated something within Mills and he's always tried to find something to give back to ever since. He found a solution in Bert's Big Adventure.
"I can't imagine for the life of me what it would be like if one of my kids were sick or not well and how much it impacts a whole family," Mills said. "At the end of the day if we can raise money for this charity and show proof to these kids that life's not over if you're disabled or if you're sick or ill. You can still do things and if you have that in your mindset - that faith - you can go forward."
"It would be cool to say I have the record," Mills says, "but if I can raise money for this charity and show these kids anything is possible, that's what it's all about."
While Mills has been promoting the Guinness record effort, he told the News the event actually will double as a feat for the rival organization RecordSetter. He said that RecordSetter already has a category for wheelchair truck-pulls, and that one record is held by an able-bodied South African man who used a wheelchair as a stunt.
"I don't think it's right, a guy who can walk setting the record," Mills said. "I'm going to take it away from him."
The Ripley's Believe It or Not organization will film the event for their web series as well, Mills said.
In 1996, Mills was a 16-year-old growing up in Mississippi when his car was hit by a drunk driver. The crash nearly killed him and paralyzed his legs. That life-changing wreck pushed him to succeed as an "adaptive athlete," meaning an athlete with a disability.
"When I got paralyzed, I had to grow up real fast," Mills told the News previously. "It was all about, ‘How are you going to make it? How are you going to get better? How fast can you do these things?' Everything I did was a competition."
Mills' unwavering confidence and desire to compete at such a high level despite his disability is something that comes from his parents, especially his dad who was military. When Mills came out of his coma for his car wreck his dad's mentality was that his son had to be strong. When someone says "you can't do it" Mills wants to prove them wrong.
"You told me I can't. I'm gonna show you I did. That's one of my sayings," Mills said. "If someone tells me I can't, I'm going to show you I did. I've always been that way. I've always been a glass half-full kind of person, not half-empty. I've always wanted to be different when I was a kid. I wanted to be different. Two weeks before I got paralyzed, I told my dad I wanted to be different than anybody else. He said, "Be careful what you wish for you just my get it." Two weeks later I'm fighting for my life in a come from a car wreck."
"From that day forward it was you're different. You asked for this, make it positive. My life's been better," Mills added.
Mills says his life's been great and he has no qualms. Mills hasn't used his handicap as an excuse; in fact he's turned it into a positive. The powerfully built Mills particularly enjoys brutal physical challenges and endurance competitions.
He's on a pro team for the Spartan Death Race, an extreme obstacle course, and is signed up for the similar BattleFrog event in May at the Georgia International Horse Park. Mills is sometimes the only adaptive athlete competing in these events.
A few years ago someone told Mills he couldn't crawl up Stone Mountain. Now he does it the first weekend of every February. Mills lasted 25 hours in the Spartan Death Race before he was cut where he was the 20th person to go out beating 19 able bodied men who quit or were cut before him. He's also done an an Army Ranger event that required a physical 13 hours of physical training by Navy Seals.
He recently participated in a 200-mile race in South Carolina, and finished his annual climb of Stone Mountain-accomplished by crawling up on his hands and knees.
For the record-setting attempt, he will try to pull a 2015 Honda Pilot SUV that weighs just under 5,000 pounds for 100 meters. He has been training heavily, including by pulling borrowed cars in a Rockdale shopping center parking lot off McDonough Highway. He ties a 400-foot-long rope to a light pole, hooks himself to the car with a harness, and pulls away.
The training is a good conversation-starter with "people scratching their head, wondering what I'm doing," Mills said.
"The hardest part is getting your mind set to do it," he says of the massive physical effort of such a feat. "If you can get it in your mind, your body will follow."
As of Friday, the event raised $1,325 of the $2,000 goal. To support Mills' superhuman record attempt, go to https://www.crowdrise.com/festivusandmichael4kids
For more information on Mills and the event, see his Facebook page at facebook.com/chasingmichaelmills.