I have done cause rides, but for the first time I had the opportunity to be part of the reception, one of the persons in waiting as we stood in anticipation of the arrival of the men and women of the Soldier Ride. For the first time ever I had the chance to see the concern and the worry as loved ones held their breath, pursed their lips and chewed their nails waiting... waiting for the riders. Were they ok? Were they hurt? Was the traffic too bad or the desert too hot? Were they ok?
But these were not hardened cyclists who had trained for ten months in preparation for this event. These were not avid cyclists on an extreme endurance adventure ride. These were men and women who, until ten months ago had whole bodies, people whose lives had been forever altered while in service of their country.
These were the men and women of the Wounded Warrior Soldier Ride, and the people amongst whom I had the privilege to wait were their families, wives, lovers, and children. Families who knew, far better than I, what sacrifices their loved ones had made, and how difficult this journey, in both the short term and long term, had been and will continue to be...
Finally they arrived, clothed in their gray jerseys, but brilliant, sparkling, in their jubilation. Wearing smiles as wide as the Las Vegas billboards under which they had just pedaled and hand cranked their bikes. Their family and supporters erupted in cheers, hoots, and whistles as they welcomed their loved ones home. The warriors smiled and some choked back tears, but all were happy and accomplished, satisfied to be that much closer on their journey home. But, this is their story and I think it is best told by them.
Specialist Gomez-Perez: 10th Mtn Div.
"I'm just here having a good time with these guys. It's an awesome thing. It's an awesome ride, it's the best. The ride's the best thing I've done so far. We did 20 something miles today. We rode over Hoover Dam and then we did a couple of miles to end it up right now."
"It was awesome, I never done anything like that, it's a once in a lifetime thing. So, I mean it was excellent. I've done the whole trip so far so it is close to 40 something miles, 45 miles maybe, so... Phoenix to Vegas. (the hardest part) Going up that dang Hoover Hill, getting up to the top of Hoover Dam. But that down hill was awesome so..."
PPO: How fast did you get going?
"Probably like 35, 40 maybe"
PPO: How do these (recumbent) bikes handle going that fast?
"They were totally ok, even with one hand I mean... It was handling really well so... You just have that feeling that your gonna flip, but it's all part of speed huh?
Speed is the best!"
PPO: Is the best thing the cameraderie?
"Yes, Oh Yeah! (the best is) you get to hang out with these guys."
PPO: How long you been together?
"I first met these guys like three months ago, I met them at Balboa, the medical hospital down at San Diego... and since, we been together, going to PT together."
PPO: When did you first encounter the Wounded Warrior Project?
"As soon as I came into Balboa Hospital, I was introduced to Lonny who is the representative for the Wounded Warrior program down there. So far they have treated me great. Awesome events and the family is always welcomed to come."
"I first ran into the Wounded Warrior Project when they came in to talk to me, and I have been involved ever since."
PPO: What was the best part of the ride for you?
"Being done... (laughter) All the places we get to see along the way."
PPO: And I see you are using a leg cranked bike, what is your disability?
"This leg, this arm and my speech is off. But my ride is on."
Spec: Saul Martinez, Bloomington CA.:
PPO: Hey my man, my big man, what's your name, where you from?
"Spec: Saul Martinez, Bloomington, CA. It's a little town right next to Fontana if you know where that is."
PPO: How'd you find out about the Warrior Project?
"At Walter Reed Medical Center. They found me. I wanna say about a week after my injury. They came and found me right away and told me, 'Hey, we're here for you, so whatever you need... here you are!' "
PPO: And were they there for you?
"Oh Yea, every step of the way. Anything we ever need, they're a fantastic program. There should be more programs like them."
PPO: How do you feel about what you've done over the last few days?
"Oh, it was fun. It was fun just getting out and riding a bike again."
PPO: Now you're using a hand crank bike, how was that?
"Ah, it's a little... It takes a little getting used to, cause you know pedaling with your arms isn't really a natural motion so it takes a little getting used to, but once you're out here, used to it, it's pretty fun."
PPO: How long did you have to train before you could get on the bike to do the distance that you did, or did you just get on and go?
"I just got on and went. I haven't rode a bike since uh, three months ago..."
PPO: And how... are you sore the first couple of days or what?
"Nah, my butt hurts a bit but that's all."
PPO: Tell me about Boulder Hill.
"That's fun, yeah, that was a LOT a fun!"
PPO: The down hill or the uphill?
"The down hill! Oh yeah! We can do with a lot less uphills. Those shouldn't be around, but its alright."
PPO: Who are the supporters on the ride here?
"That's my wife, she likes to talk! (laughter) "
Not true! (more laughter!)
PPO: What's your name?
PPO: Ok Sarah, are you a cyclist by nature?
"Oh no, absolutely not! Unh uh! I haven't ridden a bike in about ten years."
PPO: And how much of the ride did you do?
"I would say half, about half."
PPO: And Boulder Hill?
"Yes, wow it was hard, my thighs were burning!"
PPO: And what do you think of the Wounded Warrior Project?
"I think it's awesome, it has really helped my husband in his recovery. He's done things that he didn't even do before the injury. He didn't think he could do it after and (with) a little bit of force from his wife kinda got him out here doing a bunch of stuff and he's really happy and his recovery is going a lot faster."
"I'm Jake's mom Keri, and I think that it's wonderful that The Wounded Warrior Project is here to help them in their recovery process. They're wonderful. I've never ridden a bike like this before and I did the whole thing and it was great."
I'm a civilian, and I came along on this ride to support the soldiers coming home from Iraq. I was invited along and it sounded like a good idea so I came along."
I'm the rec therapist at the Naval medical center in San Diego. I work very closely with the Wounded Warrior Project for many different events. We brought four of our guys up here for this, all of them in sit down bikes, and cat trikes. It's part of the rehab. All of our guys are still on active duty, still on Naval rehab right here at the medical center. This is just one of the things we can do to show them that they can do it and show the rest of the world that they can still do it too"
PPO: How about some of the other Wounded Warrior adaptive sports projects?
"We snow ski, we rock climb, we water ski, we just had a three day surf event down at San Clemente, you name it. We work closely with the US Olympic Committee and the Para Olympics, we swim... we bike... we run..."
PPO: What does it do for the guys, what's the real skinny, the bottom line on the adaptive sports project?
"Bottom line is giving them the opportunity to know that they can return to society and still have fun and go out and ride a bike like anyone else. Or go surfing or snow skiing, just like anybody else. It's not about leveling the playing field, but its about understanding that the playing field is sometimes vertical and that they can still compete or at least partake in a non-level world..."
To Support the Soldier Ride visit:
The Wounded Warrior Project.