Fight Song: Mike Mac's new Wings for Life anthem

Mike McNamara’s life is like one of those songs that builds and builds, and you think you know where it’s going until it shifts. The shift feels wrong, until it takes you to a crescendo that gives you chills every time.

McNamara, who lives in Los Angeles and goes by Mike Mac, is a music producer and a spinal cord injury survivor. Along with Jordan Baum, he’s also one half of the 87’s, who – together with New Jersey rapper and Red Bull Records artist PineappleCITI – are creating an anthem for this year’s Wings for Life World Run.

For this new Red Bull Records track, the 87’s collaborated with PineappleCITI. All proceeds will go to support spinal cord research. Photo: Aldo Chacon/Red Bull Content Pool

Mac was 15 years old and captain of his basketball team when he went for a layup during a game. He made contact with a defender that sent him flying, and he landed on his back. He got up, unaware that he’d torn two ligaments in his back. A few days later he couldn’t run. A blood clot was slowly forming along his spinal cord, compressing it and causing waves of agony that made it hard to sleep, sit or stand. Three weeks later he collapsed on the couch and couldn’t get up. He pushed himself onto the floor and tried again to stand.

“I touched my stomach and it was like Play-Doh,” says Mac, describing the loss of feeling. “The next thing you know, everything was mush, and I couldn’t breathe.” A 6-inch spinal epidural hematoma had paralyzed him from the chest down. When Mac went to rehab after surgery to remove the clot, the doctor told him it was unlikely he’d ever recover.

“I said, ‘Well, I’m not leaving here until I walk again,’ ” says Mac. Three months later, with the help of forearm crutches, he did.

Mike Mac and Jordan Baum of the 87’s, producers and songwriters who have worked with artists like Iggy Azalea. Photo: Dalure

Today, Mac wears a brace on his right foot, the one inked with the mantra he adopted during his recovery: “Can’t Stop Me.” He always does something on the anniversary of his accident to stoke that mantra – this year, he and a buddy did a 2-mile hike, a 16-mile bike ride and 18 holes of golf. He does have a limp, which means the only thing he can’t do is run. And running had been one of his favorite things; it calmed a brain that was always shooting off in a million different directions. It also fueled his competitive drive, turning him from the kid who came in last on a hilly training run to the guy who finished first every single time, eventually clocking 15:45 for 3 miles.

For the Wings for Life World Run anthem, Mac wants to channel the journey of his recovery. And he has a unique partner in PineappleCITI, who herself was unable to walk for two years after a near-fatal car wreck in 2016. They both know struggle and triumph. And they know how to make the music that will turn their story into a sound so resonant, Wings for Life World Run participants and everyone affected by spinal cord injury will find something to latch onto.

But there is one message Mac hopes they all hear.

"You can do anything you set your mind to. I was paralyzed 18 years ago, and who would have thought I’d make a song for Wings for Life,” he says. “No struggle or injury defines who you are. Never let it stop you."

– Christine Fennessy

Register to take part in the run at One hundred percent of entry fees goes to spinal cord research.