Disabled Veterans Cycle From Sea to Shining Sea

Sea to Shining Sea riders embrace in the Atlantic Ocean, July 28, 2012, after cycling more than 3,800 miles from San Francisco to Virginia Beach. USO photo by Joseph Andrew Lee

For the past two months, a group of 14 disabled veterans rode bicycles, hand cycles and recumbent cycles nearly 4,000 miles through 14 states—from Sea to Shining Sea.

They started May 28th dipping their rear tires in San Francisco Bay, before heading east on their cross country journey.   Through scenic Napa Valley and over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the World T.E.A.M. Sports cyclists rode through Lake Tahoe and endured 100-plus degree temperatures in the deserts of Nevada and Utah before pedaling up the steep inclines of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

They toured America at 10 miles per hour, through small towns and big cities, experiencing the sights and smells of the heartland—a pilgrimage through the country to help them understand exactly what it is they sacrificed their bodies and minds for. They rode through the Arkansas River valley into Kansas, arriving in St. Louis for the Fourth of July. In each town and city, Americans lined the streets to welcome them. They continued east through southern Illinois, Indiana, Ohio  then south through Washington D.C. and Richmond before arriving at their final destination in Virginia Beach, today.

Following the cyclists for the entire trip has been a USO Mobile RV, on a mission to provide valuable field support such as water, food and shelter from inclement weather.

“The driver of the RV—Lou—was probably [one of] the most consistent and uplifting personalities we had with us along the way,” said Army Capt. Ivan Castro, an active duty Special Operations officer who was blinded and maimed by a mortar round in Iraq. Castro rides tandem with a sighted, civilian cyclist.

“We’ve had some tough climbs, some scary descents and some crazy hot weather,” he added.  “But every morning Lou is there to shake my hand, give me some kind words of support and hand me a cup of coffee just the way I like it. It’s the same USO I know and love, but it’s always here—traveling along with us. It’s amazing the way the USO can bring comfort to an otherwise uncomfortable situation.”

“We’re here to provide any level of support these riders might need at every moment along the route,” said Emily Flint, the Special Events coordinator for the USO who traveled in the RV for the entire ride. “One day that might mean handing out waters, sandwiches, or providing much-needed logistical support. At other times the USO Mobile is literally the only respite the cyclists have from the unforgiving weather. It’s been a grueling trip at some points—especially because of the weather—but we are proud to support the endeavors of men and women who have been injured while serving our country.”

World T.E.A.M. (which stands for The Exceptional Athlete Matters) Sports has organized all kinds of athletic events for disabled and able-bodied citizens, from mountain climbing to white water rafting, biking, and more. This is the second Sea to Shining Sea ride for wounded veterans, and the first which the USO has  co-sponsored.

“We’re honored that the USO chose to support our effort to recognize the riders for both their sacrifice and resiliency,” said World T.E.A.M. Sports CEO and President Paul Tyler. “Support from an organization like the USO means so much to this group of riders who dedicated two months of their lives to crossing the country they defended.”

To learn more about the day-to-day experiences of the ride and the riders, visit the Sea to Shining Sea website and read the daily blogs by S2SS Communications Manager Richard Rhinehart and ride director Mike Claver. — By Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

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Ride 2 Recovery Debuts Custom-Built Bike, aka “Project Z”

A special message from John Wordin, President and Founder, Ride 2 Recovery:

It is with great pride that we announce our latest specially adapted bike for a very special wounded warrior. Project Z was undertaken with a grant from the USO to create a one-of-a-kind adapted bike for a victim of the Ft. Hood Massacre, Staff Sergeant Patrick Zeigler.

A first look at this one-of-a-kind recumbent bike, specially designed for SSgt. Ziegler. (Photo courtesy of Ride 2 Recovery Facebook page)

SSgt. Ziegler was shot four times. He was shot in the right side of the head, in the left shoulder, left forearm, and left side of my hip. Zeigler was the last remaining victim from the Fort Hood shootings to get out of the hospital just a month ago. He recently relocated back to Ft. Hood after being at the Mayo Clinic for most of 2010.

His recovery will take months, if not years. Part of his skull is still missing, and two bullets remain lodged in his body. Much of his muscle mass has withered away. Walking is still a challenge and for a former runner, the lack of activity has been hard to deal with. But his spirit, determination, and sense of humor are still intact.

At the behest of Jill Cone, wife of Ft. Hood CG Gen. Robert Cone, Patrick and his future wife Jessica, got in touch with Ride 2 Recovery and soon became fast friends with several of the wounded warriors. Patrick wondered out loud if it was possible for him to join in a future R2R ride.

SSgt. Ziegler gives a thumbs up to "Project Z." He plans plans to participate in the 2011 R2R Texas Challenge. (Photo courtesy of Ride 2 Recovery Facebook page)

First, a bike had to be designed and built for his condition. This has become a specialty of R2R.. How to take normal everyday bike parts and adapt them to suit a specific injury.

The Project Z is the result… The only long cage electronic rear deraileur known in the world so he could use a triple chainring and still have Shimano Di2 shifting. All brake and hand controls on the right side due to his left arm issues, and a trike (due to the severity of his brain injury) with a 700c rear wheel for high performance and fun.

You can join Patrick as he debuts Project Z on Saturday, Nov. 6 at Ft. Hood with a special event commemorating the 1 year anniversary of the shooting.  “Rock the Hood” takes place at 8 am. the 13 mile Run to Remember is open to everyone… Come out and support Ft. Hood….

Great Lakes Challenge Makes a Strong Finish at the Legion Convention

With a flatter course than yesterday and everyone excited about the Packer's game, Day 4 was a fast day in the saddle. The group made it all the way to Lambeau Field in under 5 1/2 hours of riding time! (Photo courtesy of Ride 2 Recovery Facebook page)

Wounded cyclists, and others who joined them in support, traveled from Wasau to Green Bay to Sheboygen and – finally – to Milwaukee for the second half of Ride 2 Recovery’s “Great Lakes Challenge.” As usual, riders new and experienced shared powerful stories of healing and transformation through the experience.

As reported by the Green Bay Press Gazette: “Rider Jen Dreizehn, a 15-year military veteran, has not only been riding with her biking family, but also seeing her real family in her first trip back to Wisconsin over that time. Her family cheered her along at several stops on Thursday and planned to attend the Green Bay Packers game with her.

The Shawano native, who grew up in Mountain, is stationed with the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Eustis, Va.  ‘I haven’t ridden a bike since I was 12 years old, so this has just been great and a real challenge,’ Dreizehn said. ‘Challenge is definitely the word to use. I’m really glad I did it.’”

The final day of the Great Lakes Challenge saw the cyclists heading into Milwaukee, and then riding in the American Legion parade. (Photo courtesy of Ride 2 Recovery Facebook page)

The final day of the ride was especially poignant, as the group greeted attendees at the The 92nd Annual American Legion National Convention and later participated in a parade.  Marty Callahan reported the following: “About 50 cyclists – veterans and servicemembers – arrived in Milwaukee Aug. 28 at The American Legion National Convention, completing a six-day, 426-mile journey from Minneapolis. The cyclists are part of the national Ride 2 Recovery program that helps veterans overcome their wounds and inspire others to do the same.

‘This kind of event does tremendous things for the mental and physical rehabilitation of the wounded warriors,’ said John Wordin, founder and president of Ride 2 Recovery. ‘Whatever kind of injury they may have – amputations, spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, PTSD – cycling helps them to recover. Events like this create such a bond and camaraderie – it’s a great group therapy session.’”

Click here to watch as the cyclists enter the convention, and check out a great video clip from WLUK-TV below!

Ride 2 Recovery’s Great Lakes Challenge

From August 23 to August 28, 120 cyclists are taking part in Ride 2 Recovery‘s Great Lakes Challenge, which kicked-off from the headquarters of presenting sponsor United Healthcare in Edina, MN.  The ride will culminate at the National American Legion Convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

This group of wounded veterans, and the supporters who ride along with them, includes many new riders.  Among them is Nathan DeWalt, a member of the Navy who was paralyzed recently when a car struck him during Navy Seal training. He had his first handcycle ride since his accident and was thrilled with the participation and was mentored by R2R’s Spokesman Nathan Hunt during the ride. He can’t wait to get his new custom handcycle for future R2R events.

Nathan DeWalt quickly masters his handcycle and shares a smile on the way to the Minnesota State Capital. (Photo courtesy of Ride 2 Recovery's Facebook page)

Day two found the cyclists traveling from Hudson to Chippewa Falls, with the following maxim to spur them on: ‎​If you want to ride with the big dogs you can’t bark like a puppy.  If you want to swim with the big fish, you can’t splash like a guppy!

From one of the riders: “Today was one of those days that let you know why cycling is one of the greatest ways to spend time with friends. And if you happen to be doing a Ride 2 Recovery rehab event, it is a great way to share that experience with your fellow Injured Veterans.  With temps in the low 70′s and the wind blowing at the backs of the group at 30 mph, we knew from the start that the 75 mile, mostly flat ride was going to be really fun.

The route took us from Hudson to Chippewa Falls via the towns of Menomonie, Elk Mound, Eau Claire and into Chippewa Falls. The group stayed mostly together for the entire ride with the help of the Legion Riders. The new riders are having a great time and everyone was laughing and joking with each other the entire day…”

Riders are never alone, as numerous folks ride along, cheer with encouraging words or - as in the case of this motorcyclist - lead the way with flags proudly flying. (USO photo courtesy of Ride 2 Recovery Facebook page)

Day three arrived with  3300 feet of climbing ahead of the cyclists; luckily, it was an unusually cool day with a tailwind to boot.  The ride continues today with Gen. Gary Cheek, commander of the Warrior Transition Command passing the torch to Darryl Williams. Gen. Cheek has been a great friend to Ride 2 Recovery, participating in several rides for the past 2 years.  Together, Ride 2 Recovery has grown within the WTU system benefiting a lot of injured veterans and the launch of the Warrior Games. We wish him great success with his new assignment and while his shoes are going to be tough to fill, we look forward to seeing Darryl out on a ride very soon….

It's all about teamwork as experienced riders help out the newbies, and anybody who needs an extra push knows there a set of hands there to help. (Photo courtesy of Ride 2 Recovery Facebook page)

Ride 2 Recovery’s “Rocky Mountain Challenge” Wraps Up!

Riders take a break in front of a B-52 at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, August 5, 2010. (Photo courtesy of Ride 2 Recovery Facebook page)

Six days and many miles later, cyclists with Ride 2 Recovery completed their “Rocky Mountain Challenge,” and what a trip it was!  Here’s a recap from one of the riders:

“The Rocky Mountain Challenge presented by UnitedHealthcare finished up on Thursday, Aug. 5 as the Ride 2 Recovery entered Ft. Carson with all of the Ft. Carson WTU participants leading us into the base. It was a fitting end to a great 6 day event.

Wednesday’s ride started with the governor of Colorado singing the praises of R2R - a cycling program for injured active duty and retired troops on the mend - and a short ride with Lance Armstrong and the UHC pro cycling team members Chris Baldwin and Eric Baralev.  The group then headed to Colorado Springs and a ride thru the Air Force Academy and a short reception at the North Gate B-52 display. Before the group finished for the day before a late summer thunderstorm hit.

A civilian, Brady Allen was driving on the Interstate 25.  He saw a stream of cyclists in their R2R kits heading toward the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.  He paused for a second and then quickly turned around to follow. Allen wasn’t sure, but a hand cyclist he saw just might be one of his buddies from the war in Iraq — Nate Hunt. “It was weird,” Allen, who knew his old pal was riding in events like these, says. “There was no freaking way.”

Then an amazing thing happened when we got to the B-52, under the shadow of the old bomber on the academy grounds: there was Nate Hunt, grinning.  Hunt was talking to a man who helped save his life in Iraq on May 10, 2008.  That’s when the Buffalo Heavy Armored vehicle that Hunt commanded was hit by a particularly nasty sort of improvised-explosive device — an explosively-formed penetrator, or EFP — during a late-night patrol not far from his forward-operating base in Baghdad.  “We just didn’t see them and two blew up and hit the truck,” says Hunt, who retired as an Army staff sergeant.

It used to be tougher for Hunt to talk about what happened in Iraq — the story of how he became a double-above-the-knee amputee. He says he’s become more comfortable telling his story since joining Ride 2 Recovery.  He adds that he feels telling his story has helped other riders share what happened to them.

This day was the hardest of the Challenge with 2000′ of climbing out of Denver into a very stiff 20 mph wind. Needless to say, everyone was looking forward to a nice dinner and some sleep.  We were treated to some great hospitality by Frankie’s Too, a great restaurant in the Colorado Springs area.  The military community members were in attendance, along with NFL Hall of Fame Linebacker Randy Gradishar.  The event was sponsored by Give an Hour, a non-profit that supports R2R and some of the PTSD riders that take part in each Challenge.

The riders finished all together at Ft. Carson, but before they got there, they had a rest stop at the Garden of the Gods, where they took perhaps the best group photo in the history of R2R, August 5, 2010. (Photo courtesy of Ride 2 Recovery's Facebook page)

This ride will be remembered by everyone who took part for the amazing scenery, the difficult nature of the course, and the tremendous progress and difference it made in the lives of all who participated. We are truly amazed how much emotion is displayed at the end of the ride and how much it truly means to those who take part. Until the next time…”

Congratulations to all of the cyclists who completed the Challenge and to each of the groups and individuals that rode with them along the way.  Check out video of the ride below!

Ride 2 Recovery’s “Rocky Mountain Challenge”

Cyclists participating in Ride 2 Recovery's "Rocky Mountain Challenge" head out on August 1, 2010. (Photo courtesy Ride 2 Recovery Facebook Group)

Ride 2 Recovery’s “Rocky Mountain Challenge” – presented by UnitedHealthcare – took off from Cheyenne, Wyoming, with riders leading off the annual Frontier Days Patriot Parade!   The first day’s ride would culminate at Fort Collins, and it was an especially poignant ride for one cyclist.  Enjoy this great story from one of the ride leaders:

“The highlights of each ride are the wounded warriors that come to the rides to find out something about themselves or try to break through their place in their rehabilitation. One such new rider is Camille from the Ft. Carson WTU. She was injured in an ATV accident in El Paso, TX while stationed at Ft. Bliss. She shattered her right knee in the accident and had to undergo major knee reconstruction.

When Camille showed up in Cheyenne, it was typical of a R2R newbie, part wide-eyed gung ho and part what the heck have I gotten myself into. She was sent with a handcycle. It has been the mission of R2R to work with the Medcom folks to educate them on the proper bike for the specific type of injury a warrior is facing. All too often, the default is to put them on a handcycle. Sometimes that is a good thing and sometimes not.

Camille is all smiles as she heads across Colorado during the Ride 2 Recovery "Rocky Mountain Challenge." (Photo courtesy of Ride 2 Recovery's Facebook Group)

As was the case with Camille, she needed something different. When the R2R staff took a look at her, the question immediately was why a handcycle? It is a fact that leg muscles are bigger and more powerful than the arms. It is the philosophy of R2R to put a warrior on a bike that will give that warrior the most benefit as part of their rehab and the most enjoyment. With Camille, her knee injury and rehab was tailor made for a road bike. After all, one of the first things they do with knee rehab is put them on a stationary bike.

We convinced Camille to try a road bike and in fact to ride tandem with Jim Penseyres. After just a couple of miles, Camille was sure she made the right choice and by the time we reached the day’s USO lunch stop in Nunn, Camille had a grin ear to ear and said she could not stop smiling she was having such a great time.

Another great R2R story and a great example of the warrior can do spirit…”

Day 2 took riders from Ft. Collins to Estes Park through the Big Thompson Canyon. It was 32 miles from the turn in Loveland until the riders found the hotel in Estes Park…and almost all of that 32 miles was uphill! The grade varied from 1 or 2 % up to 6% in the steeper sections. It made for a challenging – but ultimately rewarding – day.

The three hand cyclists and one trike rider had a tall order on day 2, in order to make it over the pass and into Estes Park. he ride started at just over 5,000' and climbed to over 7200'. For anyone riding a handcycle or a 3 wheel trike, it is a tall order! (Photo courtesy of Ride 2 Recovery Facebook Group)

Stay tuned for more pictures and stores as the “Rocky Mountain Challenge” continues…