Some people use bicycles for fun; some for transportation. Wounded warriors use bikes to get their lives back together.
Through a series of short bicycle tours called Soldier Rides, veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are learning to adapt to their life-changing injuries and get on with their lives.
Yesterday I spoke with retired Army Lt. Col. Dan Schnock, the director of Soldier Ride who is in Washington DC preparing for this week’s ride that includes a spin to the White House to see the Commander in Chief.
He had just spent the morning helping fit a double-amputee — he lost one leg above the knee, the other below — to a hand-cycle. His bike ride will be like doing a series of push-ups down the road.
Hand-cycles and recumbents
Dan said about 30 individual warriors and their caregivers are in town for three days of riding. The D.C. visit is just one of nine coming up this year. The list is printed below.
Many of them are on hand-cycles; those with back injuries ride recumbents. Others who have lost just one leg can ride a standard bicycle with modified pedals.
After coming home from war on stretchers and spending months in the hospital, doing something they used to consider as simple as riding a bicycle gives them a sense of achievement.
Dan gave the example of one double-amputee who returned from the front and endured 32 surgeries at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. “The Soldier Ride gave him the hope to do things that he could do when he was a kid,” Dan said.
In 2009, the man climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. He returned to the work force, and now he’s a mentor to other soldiers and gives them hope about their futures.
Soldier Rides are just one of the programs offered by the Wounded Warrior Project, a national nonpartisan organization based in Florida. The group seeks to raise awareness and gain the public’s help for injured servicemen, as well as encourage injured service men and women to aid and assist each other.
The Wounded Warrior Project, through supporters and sponsors, provides the equipment at no cost. A civilian, Chris Carney, is credited with completing the first Soldier Ride — coast-to-coast – in 2005 to raise money for WWP. The regional Soldier Rides started in 2007.
“We have 16 programs to keep them active,” Dan said. “We want to help rehabilitate the body, the mind, economic empowerment and engagement. It helps them to cope with what we call their ‘new normal.'” See the other Wounded Warrior Project programs.
Dan’s 22 years in the Army put him in many operations — Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraqi Freedom. Now he says it’s like being back in the platoon again to work with these guys.
“When they first come together, they’re tentative individuals. Soon they become like a family unit and are sharing their email and Facebook addresses before they leave.
“That socialization is awesome and inspiring.”
Now that they’re fitted into the bikes, the wounded warriors will do a 16-mile warm-up ride on Wednesday, and Thursday they’ll head to Annapolis, MD, for some more bicycling. On Friday they ride to the White House for a greeting from President Obama, and Saturday they’re headed to the Rose Haven resort in south of Annapolis on the Chesapeake Bay.
If you see them in DC this week, or at these other locations this summer and fall, give them your support.
2012 Soldier Ride Upcoming Dates:
• WASHINGTON, D.C.: April 19 – 22, 2012
• CHICAGO: June 14 – 17, 2012
• NEW YORK: July 18 – 22, 2012
• GERMANY: July 29 – Aug. 7, 2012
• SEATTLE: Sept. 13 – 17, 2012
• NORTH FORK: Sept. 26 – 30, 2012
• PHOENIX: Oct. 18 – 21, 2012
• NASHVILLE: Nov. 1 – 4, 2012
• SAN ANTONIO: Nov. 15 – 18, 2012
Photo above provided by Soldier Ride.
See the list: Bike rides for veterans