Man overcomes paralyzing accident to live dream as firefighter

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CUTLERVILLE, Mich. - As a child, Ray Pickard was passionate about two things: motocross and firefighting.  Unfortunately, one of those passions seemed to destroy any chance of him pursuing the other.

Lying in a hospital bed at seventeen years old, doctors told Ray Pickard he would never walk again.

Growing up, Ray Pickard often found himself on two wheels instead of walking on two feet. From motorcycles, to quads, Pickard was hooked. "It was a passion. It became a way of life. It kinda takes over you," Pickard said.

But that passion led to a lot of pain. On April 4th, 2004, Ray's life turned when he overshot a jump by 30 feet on a private track in Cedar Springs.

"As I came down, just everything, I just felt it blow through my body," Pickard said.

The landing from the jump left 17-year-old Ray with blown out ankles and knees, a fractured neck, a closed head injury and a broken spine.

"There were a few moments I’m grabbing the doctor and screaming at him telling him I’m in so much pain, 'do something!'," Pickard said.  That was the last thing Ray remembered, until he woke up from his coma four months later, paralyzed from the waist down.

Doctors told him there was no sign of movement.  Pickard was bound by two wheels with no idea how he'd survive.  Ray couldn't believe this accident may have taken away his childhood dream of becoming a fireman.

"I was sad for a while, then anger started coming," Pickard said.  "I've been wanting to be a firefighter my whole life."

But there was something about that firefighter's coat and hat that kept his dream alive.

One year after his accident, a friend noticed Ray's feet started moving in his sleep. To him, that was the sign of hope he needed.

"I gotta keep fighting. I gotta keep pushing because at the end of the day, miracles happen and this miracle is happening to me," Pickard said. "Just to be able to move again, it was literally like I was reborn."

After years of therapy, Ray was finally standing on his own two feet again.  And the man who was once a paraplegic is now a standing member of the Cutlerville Fire Department. The man who once relied on two wheels instead of two legs is now walking, running and climbing to help other people survive.

"This is where I belong. I need to be a firefighter. I need to be able to save lives."

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