David Cornelsen is about to embark on the ride of his life.
Cornelsen, paralyzed from the hips down, will use his arms to pedal a two-wheel hand cycle in a round-the-world adventure, departing Friday from Atlanta.
Cornelsen, 43, will join other disabled riders in touring the United States and 15 countries in Europe and Asia as part of AXA World Ride '95. The 12,971-mile ride, organized by World TEAM (The Exceptional Athlete Matters) Sports Inc., is aimed at highlighting the "able" in disabled athletes, organizers said.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience," said Cornelsen, a Huntington Beach resident. "I've never seen the entire world, and I've never seen cultures that are so dramatically different from my own. Something like this doesn't come along but once in a lifetime. There's no way I'd let it go by. Once I heard about it, I had to go on the trip."
In 1987, Cornelsen, suffered a spinal cord injury in a car accident while traveling in Mexico. He was instantly paralyzed.
Despite his injury, Cornelsen's enthusiasm for cycling became even stronger, he said.
"The world of recreation has been my salvation," said Cornelsen, who leaves today for Atlanta.
Cornelsen has set several world records for hand cycling, including a 1990 ride across the country, in which he traveled 2,969 miles in 18 days, 16 hours and 52 minutes.
"After my race across America, I felt I could do anything I wanted to do," he said. "As long as there's a will, you can find a way to do it."
Cycling in this world ride event, Cornelsen said, will show people of different countries what the disabled can accomplish. "We do have a mission to demonstrate, and not just to the disabled but also to able-bodied people worldwide, that a disabled person can still do exceptional things as athletes," he said.
Cornelsen, who is taking eight months off work as a hospital social worker and is spending in excess of $25,000 for the trip, said he's looking forward to making new friendships as well as seeing the world.
"Cycling is a wonderful way to go on an odyssey," said Cornelsen, who will travel about 75 miles a day. "I feel like we're breaking new ground by cycling around the world with our arms."