FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — James McMillan clutched the whirring razor as it evened the edges of a client's hair.
McMillan lightly moved a comb through the hair as he continued to work. Loose strands tumbled to the floor.
McMillan adjusted his height as he went from trimming the hair on top of his client's head to the neckline. There's less than 2 feet between the countertop and the chair, but it's just enough space for McMillan to push through in his wheelchair.
An accident in 1988 left McMillan paralyzed from the waist down. The forklift he operated at a garden nursery flipped sideways and landed on his back.
He was 21 years old. He had to find a new profession after completing months of therapy in Georgia.
Barbering seemed to fit. McMillan cut his own hair and the hair of neighbors in Emerald Garden off Strickland Bridge Road.
"You can't let your disability hold you down. You have to go as if it never happened," McMillan said.
For the past seven years, he has owned MC Beauty & Barber with his high school sweetheart and now wife, Katrina. They have a son and daughter.
Three barbers work with McMillan in the shop nestled in a storefront on Raeford Road. McMillan worked at Premiere Kutz for 14 years before venturing into business himself.
McMillan works from a customized wheelchair. He lifts his body with ease from his everyday wheelchair to the customized model. Straps keep his legs in place. He grabs handles on the wheelchair - squeezing and releasing - to find the perfect height. The wheelchair "clicks" every time he finds the ideal height, letting him know he's secure.
It's an everyday routine for McMillan.
Bobby Edens has worked at MC Beauty and Barber for three years. He was on the verge of calling it quits as a barber because he was finding it difficult to locate a place he wanted to work. One day, he walked into McMillan's shop while looking for his ideal barbershop. It was McMillan's personality that made it easy for Edens to stay. It's the same personality Edens' three children fell in love with. Edens doesn't know a day that goes by when McMillan doesn't smile.
"In three years, I've never seen him down. He never complains," Edens said. "He's an inspiration to me when I feel down and out."
Katrina said people sometimes ask why she doesn't help McMillan with everyday tasks.
"He can do it on his own. There's not much he can't do," she said.
McMillan continued his love for basketball by joining a wheelchair league in Fayetteville. His car is equipped with controls for hand-held driving. There's no need for Katrina to cut trees and grass around the home. McMillan takes care of it.
"There's no stopping James," she said. "He keeps me going instead of vice versa."
McMillan pushed his wheelchair around his client. A few strokes of a brush cleared stray hair resting on the client's shoulders. The client's edges lined perfectly. The haircut took no more than 15 minutes.
Though McMillan didn't have other scheduled appointments for that day, his line of razors and combs remained at the ready, lined up across the black countertop of his work station. Bright green paint covered the walls. Waiting customers rested comfortably on sofas. A narrow hallway led to rooms with hair dryers where Katrina works.
McMillan said he never thought he'd see himself having his own place.
It's not a secret to Katrina about what keeps her husband going.
"He finds his strength through his children. He's always been a provider," she said.
Information from: The Fayetteville Observer, http://www.fayobserver.com