When the skies opened and the rain, thunder and lightning came the day Jon Ornée and a group of fellow cyclists planned to break the Wold Ultra Cycling Record for bicycling across the state of Michigan—going from Muskegon to Port Sanilac—he was disappointed, but not deterred.
After all, Ornée knows what it is for life to throw him a curveball: a little more than four months ago, on May 16, he was hit by a car while riding his bicycle—and the life-changing accident ended in the lifelong athlete’s elbow being shattered. Prior to the crash, Ornée, 38, had planned on trying to break the world record in July but, facing a long road of recovery ahead of him, he had to postpone this dream.
Instead, he focused on regaining the use of his right arm. He began to swim and ride a stationary bicycle—Ornée was determined to not only ride from Muskegon to Port Sanilac, but to complete what the National Park Service said was the first-ever swim to Lake Michigan’s North Manitou Island.
“I think almost immediately I was pretty determined to make the ride happen again,” said Ornée, a Grandville native who now lives in Holland. “Accomplishing the swim and the ride was really important to me. I didn’t want the crash to rob me of anything. Almost right away I was determined to get back on my bike, especially because the crash happened on my bike.”
Which is to say: when the torrential rains came on Sunday, Sept. 22, the day Ornée and a team of fellow cyclists from throughout West Michigan planned to ride across Michigan, he knew there was no way he was going to give up. He’d just find another way to make this trek happen.
Ornée had to scramble a bit, including finding some new members to join his cycling team because some of the original riders had to work Monday, but, after months of rehabilitation and the last-minute changes thanks to Mother Nature, Ornée and his fellow riders rode 205 miles from Muskegon to Port Sanilac in eight hours and 17 minutes on Monday, Sept. 23. Their time shatters the previous World Ultra Cycling Record time of nine hours and 12 minutes, according to the World Ultra Cycling Association.
The riders who joined Ornée included Ben Blake of Grand Rapids, Nick DeHaan of Grand Rapids, Jesse Gould of Grand Blanc, and Sean Murphy of Hudsonville.
“It was a really beautiful day,” Ornée said. “I was smiling and filled with gratitude the whole time. My heart was full, and it’s still full.”
Starting off in Muskegon’s Kruse Park, the group made their way through downtown Muskegon and onto Port Sanilac, a village perched on the western shores of Lake Huron. Throughout the ride, they were aided by a four-person crew—Brian Bartels, Alan Cochran, Eric Haas, and Necia Ornée—who assisted with everything from flat tires to providing food and water.
“We were definitely all excited at the start, though there’s certainly some nerves,” Ornée said. “There are so many unknowns on a 205-mile bike ride. We didn’t know if we’d have construction or detours or run into a train. We had to get through downtown Musekgon and Saginaw, and those are both huge unknowns because of all the stopping you have to do.”
But despite the unknowns—and just a couple days after Ornée completed the first-ever swim to North Manitou Island—the cycling team broke a world record that, for Ornée, is symbolic not only of the tremendous rehabilitation he underwent, but of a new perspective on life.
“I 100 percent see life differently now after my crash,” Ornée said. “I’ve always been a pretty grateful person, but everything is just magnified now. Swimming is a gift. Cycling is a gift. Life is a gift. It magnifies the significance of the short window we have in life.”
Story by Anna Gustafson, the publisher and editor of Muskegon Times. You can connect with her by emailing MuskegonTimes@gmail.com or on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Images courtesy of the Land Conservancy of West Michigan.