Corey Cooper, an area sales representative for Invacare, an Elyria, Ohio, based corporation that manufactures and distributes medical products for home and long-term care, helps Army veteran Erin Schaefer make some adjustments to his recumbent-style hand cycle, April 4,
2012 at the Warrior Transition Battalion on Joint Base Lewis-McChord,
Wash., during a cycling clinic hosted by the Wounded Warrior
Project, April 4 and 5. Schaefer came into hand-cycling one year ago
while in rehabilitation at Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego, after
losing both his legs in a 2010 roadside bomb attack in Afghanistan. Photo by Army Sgt. Christopher Gaylord
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. (4/9/2012) – While in Afghanistan in
2010, a roadside bomb attack took away both of Erin Schaefer's legs.
But now, just two years later, a bicycle is making him feel
“It's a freedom adventure,” said the Everett,
Wash., native, loading his three-wheeled, hand-pedaled bike into his
truck, April 4, in the parking lot of JBLM's Warrior Transition
Battalion barracks. “I may not be able to run, but it's another tool
to get out.”
And the story is the same for the other wounded
soldiers who were there with him, most of whom are still serving on
active duty at the WTB awaiting rehabilitation, surgeries and final
decisions as to whether their injuries will end their military
For all of them, a cycling clinic hosted by the
Wounded Warrior Project here, April 4 and 5, served as an
opportunity to be active again – to move with purpose and feel free.
“It's very enjoyable,” said Schaefer, who drove up from Gresham,
Ore., 140 miles south of the installation to participate in the
clinic. “It gives you a good sweat – a good workout.”
Schaefer served more than 11 years as an Army truck
driver before a resupply mission in the Paktika province of
Afghanistan changed his life forever.
A semi-truck in
Schaefer's convoy broke down, so the sergeant and his fellow
soldiers chained it up on a trailer and kept moving, only to
hit an improvised explosive device 550 meters later. The
bomb detonated on Schaefer's side of the vehicle and
fractured the bones in his feet beyond repair.
Schaefer, who was serving with the 101st Airborne Division
(Air Assault) at the time, would end his service in the
military short. But it was during rehabilitation one year
ago at Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego that life
introduced Schaefer to a new hobby.
“They had weekly
[cycling] clinics, so we'd go out around San Diego and get
our endurance up,” he said. “I did a half-marathon in San
Diego and felt comfortable with that, so I did a full
For a year he rode at least once a week,
but the clinic on JBLM was his first official ride with a
new cycle he had built by a shop in Tualatin, Ore.
Representatives from the Wounded Warrior Project coordinate
12 long-distance rides – called Soldier Rides – and five
cycling clinics each year for wounded soldiers and veterans
around the world to participate in.
teams up with builders of adaptive bikes to outfit soldiers
with demonstration cycles the first day of the clinic and,
on the second, leads a ride across the installation.
The goal of the visit is simple and always the same:
Give injured troops a way to be active again that fits their
needs and a sense of accomplishment at the same time.
“Our main objective is to honor and power wounded
warriors,” said Carlos Garzon, a Soldier Ride coordinator
who came to JBLM for the clinic from the organization's
Jacksonville, Fla., headquarters. “Cycling is my tool. I
know from experience that I can bring a smile to anybody on
a bike, regardless of what bike it is or what the injury
The bikes most soldiers use during the clinics
are referred to as recumbent bikes – cycles that position
the rider in a reclined, back-leaning manner. The riders,
many of whom can't use their legs to push, use their hands
to drive the pedal crank instead.
Spc. Forrest Newman
learned to ride one for the first time, April 4. At first,
he could barely keep the bike straight, but within a
half-hour, he was cruising around the lot, circling the
group of outfitters and soldiers with a wide grin.
“It felt great,” said Newman, a helicopter mechanic from the
California Army National Guard who injured his left knee in
May 2010 during training while mobilizing to deploy. “It
honestly feels like I'm back to my normal self.
think I found something new to really do.”
suffers from a patellar impingement, which causes his
kneecap to run off track when he performs any kind of
activity with his legs and makes his knee prone to frequent
“Right now, it's difficult for me to
walk extended distances,” said the Miami native, who was
always active but forced to give up running and football –
two things he loved.
“I've always been into being
active,” said Newman, who completed his yearlong tour to
Camp Taji, Iraq, despite his training injury but in the
process seriously worsened the condition of his knee. “I'm
an outdoorsy person. Sports – anything not inside a room and
“I need to find things I can do, because
sitting still is not something I do well.”
just might have something in hand-cycling.
me feel better,” he said. “It put me in a better mood, just
because I'm able to do something I didn't think I was able
The hand-cycling intro was just one stop along
the way for Captain Michelle Maddin, whose efforts to find
the right activity have been more of a journey.
Maddin, who came to the WTB earlier this year for rehab from
the 5501st U.S. Army Hospital in San Antonio after a running
injury, has given up two passions over the last decade:
tennis and ultra marathons.
“In 2005, I kind of got
my butt kicked all over the place by some 65-year-old guy,
and then decided that maybe tennis wasn't the sport for me,”
she said. “That's when I took up running. Now, maybe running
just wasn't the right sport to choose, so I'm trying to find
“I think the cycling is probably
going to do it.”
For Schaefer, cycling does the
trick. It gives him a feeling he has no trouble explaining.
“The wind hits you, the speed of the bike is really
easy to handle and it maneuvers pretty well,” he said, his
cycle loaded into the bed of his truck. “You enjoy the air
and the scenery around you – just being free and enjoying
“It puts the biggest smile on your face.”
More photos available below
By Army Sgt. Christopher Gaylord
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