"What doesn't kill me, makes me stronger." — Friedrich Nietzsche
For Michael J Coles, a life-altering accident revolved around a small rock. The same rock that nearly cost him his life became the catalyst for his rebirth. This rock got lodged in his motorcycle's chain, locking the rear wheel. He was flung from the motorcycle into a utility pole, narrowly escaping death. Doctors conveyed that he might never walk unaided again. Yet, his indomitable will propelled him to set a world record for cycling across continents just five years later. As a Urtopia user, he connected deeply with our CEO, becoming an influential brand ambassador. His capacity to endure adversity and bounce back touched me as a writer. Now, let's delve into his legendary story:
"If you are going through hell, keep going.”
Michael J Coles, an entrepreneur, co-founded the Great American Cookie company, initially investing a mere $8000. This partnership evolved into a multi-million-dollar venture. The accident and subsequent arduous recovery served as a driving force in his entrepreneurial journey. As Nietzsche rightly said, "What doesn't kill me, makes me stronger."
Returning to when he built his first cookie store's sixth week, an accident triggered by a rock left him teetering on the brink of death. The prognosis of never walking again without assistance initially held him captive in pain and doubt. Months of rehabilitation brought minimal progress. His young daughter Taryn invited him for a run, which made Coles realize that he might never be able to move like a normal person again. He refused to accept this fate; he didn't want to be seen as a cripple in front of his daughter for the rest of his life. He realized, "My disability is not in my legs but in my mind." He chose cycling as a tool for recovery, starting with a rusty Schwinn bicycle. Gradually, movement returned to his legs, offering positive feedback. But why not set a real challenge for himself? How about a cross-continental bicycle race of about 2600 miles? Before that, let's take on a 12-hour, 90-mile bicycle challenge. He aimed for a 90-mile cycling challenge as his first major milestone, using just one leg for the final five miles. This challenge marked his foremost recovery milestone. Even in the final five kilometers, he pedaled with just one leg, the other almost immobilized. Determined, he channeled all his energy, questioning, "If I can't manage 90 miles, how can you manage 2600 miles?" With that determination, he crossed the finish line, aiming to prove the truth of the famous utterance by Winston Churchill, "If you are going through hell, keep going."
At that moment, he realized his legs were salvageable.
Setting a World Record
In 1982, Coles cycled from Savannah to San Diego in 15 days, setting a new world record. Hard to believe this was the same person who couldn't walk five years prior. Coles's journey from crutches to cycling across the nation proved the truth in Churchill's words.
"I knew I could beat my original time."
Indeed, he sought to surpass himself. In 1983, close to breaking his record, a desert whirlwind hurled him off his bike, fracturing his collarbone, just 380 miles short of his goal. In 1984, undeterred, he embarked on another attempt to conquer the 2600-mile cross-country route.
For the initial days, Michael J Coles contended with aggressive winds ranging from 30 to 40 mph. Three states lay behind him, and five stretched ahead. His body exhibited the consequences of the conflict against the wind. The force he exerted on the pedals led to significant swelling in his feet, necessitating the cutting open of his shoes. His neck ached, and his hands grew so numb that he had to shake them every few minutes to restore blood circulation. At this juncture, he looked forward to merely two things: eating and sleeping. But for Michael to break records, these two things had to be restrained: sleep, limited to just two hours a day, and food for energy consumed while riding.
In Michael J Coles's 2,600-mile journey across the U.S., every state, city, mile, and inch was a battle against the relentless headwind, reshaping his perspective. He had to strive toward California. This intense focus brought unprecedented clarity, revealing the inadequacy of "good enough."
On May 15th at 5:15 PM Beijing time, Michael J Coles reached San Diego. Enduring stop-andgo traffic in the final race hours, only in rest did true exhaustion hit. While moving, pain remained subdued. Over the last three hours, seven pounds shed due to body strain. Turning onto Broadway Street, crowds surged, adrenaline soaring. Exhilarating yet agonizing, he was certain. He would finish. Pushed to unearth his essence, future challenges seemed less daunting
After 11 days, 8 hours, and 15 minutes from Savannah, Michael J Coles achieved a new world record. Sleeping just 22 hours total, less than two hours each day, he shattered his record at 40, lifting his bike on destination courthouse steps, -nothing would ever be the same.
Over that Rock, miracle will happen
For Michael, it was that very rock that almost took his life and then bestowed upon him the rebirth, instilling an unwavering belief to never give up, even in the face of the abyss. So, when he conquered the seemingly impossible task "Over That Rock," he believed it was a miracle. However, this "miracle" was one he single-handedly engineered. He once said, "Life is a gift, your ability to work is a bonus, and pedaling a bicycle is a miracle." Grateful for this experience, he transformed what appeared to be a failure into a pivotal moment in business.
He forever holds onto the faith of "keep going," leading his company to become the largest cookie store company in America, the "Great American Cookie." Gratitude for everything received, "my whole life is about giving back." It's time to give back to society. In 2018, he authored his autobiography, "Time to Get Tough: How Cookies Coffee and a Crash Led To Success in Business and Life." His life's 75-year journey is encapsulated within these pages, embracing both success and failure, near-death experiences and rebirth. He aims to inspire youth with his story. This is the link to this book: https://ugapress.org/book/9780820354620/time-to-get-tough/
In 2021, Michael and Donna donated $1 million to Kennesaw State University for The Michael J. and Donna N. Coles Veterans Scholarship Endowment Fund, providing scholarships for veterans who've exhausted their GI Bill® benefits before finishing their degrees.
His story deeply moved me—always keep going and giving back. In his documentary, his conclusion resonates, "A true champion determined not to quit but soar." Now, this true champion chooses to continue soaring while giving back to everything that lifted him.
He over that rock, and indeed, miracles happened—overcoming everything. And now, he's returning to that rock with gratitude. It's time to give back.
Conversation with Michael J. Coles
As a proud user of the Urtopia ebike, we are honored to interview Michael and share essence of Urtopia: Inspire Passion, Activate Life.
Q: Which three words would it be if you described Urtopia Ebike?
A: Sexy, Comfortable and Flawless.
Q: You are such a rich experience of life and go through many things. Could you tell about the life of philosophy? What do you think about life?
A: Well, that's a pretty big question. But I would say that, first of all, To Get Tough. If you're asking me about life, I would say that you should try to approach everything in your life to make it the best possible thing it could possibly be. It doesn't matter whether you have money or not, it's just that. And second, live an honest life. I think an honest life for me is the most important thing.
Q: We would love to learn something from you as we face the challenges of life and business. How do young people cope when something bad happens?
A: I think that things that go wrong are frankly the biggest learning opportunity for the future of all the things that go right. Because when things go right, there's not much to learn. But when something happens, that's a glitch that you have to power through and figure out how to solve the problem. In business and life you have to know you are going to make mistakes. The important thing is to learn from those mistakes and not repeat them.
And so for me, I'm sure when I was younger, things that I went through would seem devastating. But as I've gotten older and realized that most things that seem devastating are big learning opportunities and if you the fortitude to hold things together, you can learn.
Six weeks after we started the company, I was involved in a near fatal motorcycle accident. And I was told by doctors I'd never walk again unaided, but I wound up using a bicycle to rehab. I was very lucky because I had the determination. So I started using the bike to prove the doctor's wrong. I decided I wanted to try to do something that I could use as an example. I was going to ride my bike from Savannah, GA to San Diego, CA, which is 2600 miles. And I trained for two years to do it. I crossed the country in 15 days. I knew it was not the best I could do and 2 years later broke my record by over 4 days.
Q: If you could give us 3 pieces of advice to the young people, what would it be?
A: 1. Take risks as early as you possibly can. Because it may not work out and give yourself plenty of time to recover. It was given to me when I was 22 years old by a very successful guy on an airplane. 2. Don't try to build a business with the intention of selling it. Build a great business and people will want to buy it. 3. Build your life around integrity. If you tell the truth the whole time, you never have to question what the answer is. If you made-up stories along the way, you got to go back and remember the story you made-up.