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Covington athlete prepares for Spartan obstacle course race

Covington resident Michael Mills, a wheelchair racing competitor, is participating in the Spartan obstacle course race in an effort to raise money for a non-profit serving children with chronic and terminal illnesses

Covington resident Michael Mills, a wheelchair racing competitor, is participating in the Spartan obstacle course race in an effort to raise money for a non-profit serving children with chronic and terminal illnesses

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As part of his workout regimen, Michael Mills, a paraplegic, flips tractor wheels while wearing an elevation training mask to improve his cardiovascular system.

When Michael Mills works out, he lowers himself out of his wheelchair and flips a tractor tire. He straps on a 50-pound backpack while wearing a 35-pound vest and rolls up and down neighborhood streets. He ties a 100-pound tree limb to his chair and pulls it. He chops wood. He crawls 100 yards on a running track, and then up and down bleachers.

"A lot of it is functional training, typical things that an individual would do on a daily basis," said Mills, an athlete, a father and a paraplegic.

On March 9, Mills will compete in the Reebok Spartan Race, a grueling four-mile obstacle course at the Georgia International Horse Park. He'll crawl through mud under barbed wire, scale walls, climb ropes and drag 50 to 100 pounds of weight. He plans to complete the majority of the race on his hands and knees, alongside his 11 non-wheelchair using teammates, friends he's had since childhood.

The Covington resident said he first became inspired to compete in Spartan when he learned of a group of wounded war veterans who race, despite missing arms and legs.

With an incredible desire to push his physical limits, which includes years of wheelchair racing experience, Mills, 36, figured he could do the Spartan. A comment from a friend made him commit.

"A friend said, 'You can't do this.' That was my reason right then and there," said Mills. "I never back down from any kind of challenge whatsoever."

Mills perhaps faced his greatest hurdle at 16 when a drunk driver hit him in an auto accident. Paramedics pronounced Mills dead at the scene but a bystander insisted they try to revive him with a defibrillator. One jolt got his heart beating again.

"The good Lord was definitely on my side," said Mills.

The accident severed his aorta, broke almost every bone on his left side, injured his brain and damaged his spinal cord, paralyzing his legs.

He credits his parents with helping him to recover but remain independent. They stressed that life would not change for him, and made him work for everything, he said.

Mills went on to finish high school in 1995, delayed only a year in his graduation.

An avid skateboarder before the accident, Mills started competing in wheelchair racing in 1996.

"I was looking for something that could give me the same challenge and fun and adrenalin (as skateboarding)," said Mills, who estimates he's been in more than 150 road races.

In 2005, he moved to the Atlanta area to join the Shepherd Center wheelchair racing team, on which he still competes.

"I wouldn't be where I am today if I hadn't been injured. I'm thankful for what I have in my life," said Mills, who works full-time for the Social Security Office in Covington, and whose family includes wife Tiffany, and children Brandon, 11, Katriana, 4, and Elijah, 8 weeks.

Mills said his family is athletic and he plays baseball with his son, and goes to the track with his wife. While using a wheelchair has influenced Mills' destiny, it doesn't define him as a person.

"I don't want people to see a person in a chair, I want them to see an athlete," said Mills.

With a penchant for helping others, Mills has decided to turn his Spartan Race endeavor into a fundraising effort for Bert's Big Adventure. The nonprofit organization pays for children with chronic and terminal illnesses to visit Walt Disney World for five days.

Mills is taking pledges at www.crowdrise.com/chasingspartanmichaelmills. So far, he's collected $700. His goal is $20,000.

"I've never done anything small," said Mills.