Man paralyzed in 2014 to compete in handcycle race

Matt Chaffee speaking to 24 Hour News 8 on Friday, May 12, 2017.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Often times, out of tragedy, comes inspiration.

In the story of Matt Chaffee and Adam Chaffee, tragedy struck twice. A motorcycle crash in 2014 left Matt paralyzed. Just nine months later, his brother Adam was also paralyzed in a swimming accident.

The inspiration comes with everything that’s happened since.

“Knowing that I inspire people just pushes me to go even harder,” Matt Chaffee told 24 Hour News on Friday.

It’s a no-excuses attitude — and hope — that helped the brothers achieve a lifelong goal. They now live together — just the two of them — in downtown Grand Rapids.

It’s that same hope that has pushed Adam Chaffee to grow stronger — strong enough now to join Matt Chaffee in playing wheelchair rugby.

And it’s hope that prompted total strangers to buy the brothers their own wheelchair-accessible van last summer.

Now, Matt Chaffee has a new goal. He has set his sights on the 25K handcycle race at this year’s Fifth Third River Bank Run.

“It’s hard. Your arms are just burning,” Matt Chaffee said of the recent training sessions. He’s been preparing for the race with the Mary Free Bed team for about a month now.

Matt Chaffee can reach speeds of up to 24 miles per hour. And finishing isn’t the only goal — he hopes to complete the race in under an hour.

“I might get out there and just absolutely kill it. We’ll see,” Matt Chaffee joked when asked if he could cross the finish line first.

For all the inspiration he and his brother have given others, Matt Chaffee says it’s the very people who will be racing alongside him who give him the motivation to succeed.

“You meet a lot people that have similar circumstances. And just to see how hard they’re pushing and how hard — how much they can do — really inspires me too,” Matt Chaffee said.

Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital sponsors both the wheelchair and handcycle races. There are more than 50 competitors between the two events this year.