Wounded Veterans Gain Freedom to Ride
(July 19, 2010)
PITTSBURGH (July 16, 2010)
They rode past children with waving flags, past fellow veterans who
saluted them by, past Americans who came in all heights and sizes and skin
color. All of whom had one thing in common, one thing to offer: Support.
These men and women riding past their fellow Americans
were wounded veterans. They had made the decision to ride
their bicycles from coast to coast.
“It's just a big country that's more patriotic than I
expected,” said Contant, who injured his spine during a
crash in Afghanistan.
The trek began in San Francisco on May 22, and 52 days later
A group of wounded veterans are greeted by people waving
flags in Crafton, Pa., on their way to Pittsburgh as part of
their Sea to Shining Sea cross-country bicycle ride on July
found themselves on their way to Pittsburgh with just 10
more days to go before reaching Virginia Beach. They dipped
their tires in the waters of the Pacific Ocean, and they
will dip them again in the Atlantic. Once this is all over,
they will have left behind a trail of rubber 3,700 miles
“We'll be able to say we rode every inch of this great
country,” said Andrew Hartzell, of Alexandria, Va., an Army
veteran who fractured his femur during Officer Candidate
School at Fort Benning, Ga.|
The group is made up of 18 core cyclists who represent every
military branch, plus a group of other riders who came along
for support. The trip was organized through World TEAM
Sports, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing
sporting opportunities to disabled athletes. The sponsorship
came from State Farm Insurance who coordinated water breaks,
lunch stops and lodging from start to finish.
They called this ride "Sea to Shining Sea" to incorporate
the entire stretch of land for which these veterans served
and suffered great sacrifice in doing so. Some of the riders
lost a limb, others experienced head trauma, spinal injuries
or post traumatic stress disorder.
Together the group has been able to encourage one another
through the good weather and through the bad. Through the
up-hill climbs and the down-hill winds. Through heat,
through rain, through desert and then fatigue. Through the
very country they served to provide freedom to its citizens.
And now, in a very real, tangible way, this ride across
America gives these veterans a sense of freedom back.
In the case of Hartzell, for example, if it weren't for his
bicycle, he wouldn't be walking without the need of a cane
He was climbing a wall during a training exercise at OCS
when he lost leverage, fell and another soldier fell on top
of him. He twisted his thigh so violently that he fractured
his femur. Even after surgery he wasn't able to walk, so he
was transferred to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center for
He found the rehab process boring and time consuming, but
when he tried on the stationary bike an odd realization came
“I was not sure that I (would be) able to ride a bike, so I
just thought that I would get on one and try it, and if I
felt like I was going to fall or couldn't pedal, I would
just get off and give up. But I found that there was no
impact, so it felt good,” Hartzell said.
When the rehab work began, his leg was so thin he could
almost wrap one hand around his injured thigh. After six
months of cycling he saw his body getting stronger, and
within a year he no longer needed a cane to walk.
“It was riding itself that made me stronger, but also gave
me the freedom ... to get out and go wherever I wanted. I
could get anywhere around D.C. faster than I could in a car
or in the metro,” said Hartzell.
With this new-found freedom, Hartzell encouraged other
wounded soldiers to take up biking. Then another idea came
to him. What if he rode across America to bring awareness to
the benefits of biking? He never imagined that 17 other
riders would join him, plus all the supporting riders and
sponsors who came along.
As the miles slipped past behind them, Hartzell became in
awe by the sights before him.
“I'm just struck by how gorgeous this country is, and how
lucky we are to have such a beautiful place to live ... (But)
the more important thing is how wonderful the people are of
this country ... I was struck by the hospitality of Americans
and (their) patriotism. They gave everything they had to
help the soldiers who came through, and that was a
heartwarming and amazing thing to see,” he said.
Along their ride through Pennsylvania, the sight of
Americans waving flags and shaking hands was the same as in
any other state. Only the scenery changed along the way.
The land hand changed from the Pacific Ocean, to the
mountains, to snow then rocks and sand, to desert, then corn
and corn and corn for miles through Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois
and Indiana. Then some more again in Ohio, before finally
reaching the hills of Pennsylvania. These hills could bring
heartache to any cyclist, let alone ones with disabilities.
Because of their disabilities, a handful of the veterans
rode hand-cranked bikes. During their up-hill climbs, this
multi-branch group proved its unity as foot-pedal bicyclists
pushed those who were pedaling with their arms in their
low-ride, three-wheeled bikes.
“These are a bunch of great folks,” said Chad Jukes, of Salt
Lake City, who had his right leg amputated after his vehicle
hit an anti-tank mine in Iraq in 2006. “To do it together is
really great. (There is) a really great sense of teamwork.”
Jukes, who is also an avid climber, said that along the
route he was able to reconnect with soldiers he served with
overseas and hadn't seen in years. For him and other riders,
it was the great joy of people that made a lasting
impression into his memory.
“We met a lot of good people. I think that's the biggest
thing... People just showing up along the roads, waving to us,
cheering us on,” he said. “The people, the scenery, the self
improvement. I'm getting stronger every day that I do this...
There are so many aspects of this ride that made it so much
Article and photo by Army SSgt. Michel Sauret|
354th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
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