'Sea to Shining Sea' team nears conclusion of inspiring ride
July 22, 2010
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, July 22, 2010) -- After riding nearly 3,800 miles on a bike, talking to wounded Soldiers wouldn't be on most cyclists' minds.
Most cyclists haven't ridden in Sea to Shining Sea.
Riders in the State Farm Sea to Shining Sea Ride Across America, a 63-day, 4,000-mile bike trek from San Francisco, Calif., to Virginia Beach, Va., visited Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., July 19 after riding 80 miles from Emmitsburg, Md. Then they attended the Sunset Parade at the Iwo Jima Memorial and stopped to talk to Soldiers from Fort Belvoir, Va., during their time in the Washington area.
The World Team Sports inaugural ride features a team of cyclists, some of whom were injured in Afghanistan and Iraq and have prosthetic limbs, committed to accomplishing beyond what was thought possible.
The stop at Walter Reed symbolized closure for many of the former patients on the team, including Air Force Sgt. Marc Esposito, who just one year ago was recovering at Walter Reed after his Humvee hit an IED in Afghanistan.
"It's the message that hopefully whatever happens to you in life, you can overcome it. Your mind's a lot more powerful than you think. We want them to look at us and say, 'If these guys can do it, I can get back to therapy,'" Esposito said.
The journey has impacted some Americans in just that way, said Maj. Van Brinson, a ride director scheduled to retire from the Marines in August.
During a stop at Fort Carson, Colo., Brinson said the team met the sister of a Marine who lost her leg to a birth defect and had a prosthetic leg.
"Some of the riders with leg amputations came in and talked to her and you could see it was something that really opened her up. I think that's what the ride is about-letting people know that despite having an injury and despite the social stigma, despite the expectations or the mindsets that people might put on you because you've had an injury or a deformity, when you get the right team with the right people around you, you can do anything you set your mind to," Van said.
Chad Jukes, a retired Army staff sergeant, proved he could do anything he set his mind to before the Sea to Shining Sea ride. In 2006, Jukes' truck hit an anti-tank mine in Iraq, shattering his femur and heel bone which eventually caused infection to set in. Jukes was worried that the recommended treatment, amputation below the knee, would prevent him from pursuing his passion, rock climbing. But only two months after surgery Jukes began climbing with his new prosthetic.
Jukes jumped at the opportunity to bike a daunting 4,000 miles.
"I've never done something of this nature, this duration, especially this distance. I was interested when [World Team Sports President] Jeff Messner proposed this idea to me of riding my bike across the United States. I was like, 'That sounds like a good idea.'"
Andrew Hartzell, a retired Specialist, spent nearly three years at Walter Reed following a training accident that shattered his right femur. He had trouble standing for more than a few minutes before the journey, but cycling allowed him to regain mobility in his leg.
"It shows that we can really do anything no matter what. No matter how bad we're hurt, there's a way to get around it, whether it's on a hand cycle or on a bike. I don't run, but I could ride a bike forever and [Sea to Shining Sea] shows that we're not limited in any way," Harzell said.
Hartzell noted the support given by communities and State Farm.
"In Bloomington, Illinois, we had this wonderful reception by State Farm where there was probably two or three thousand people lining the streets just cheering us on. It was really phenomenal," Harzell said. "State Farm along the way has been coming out to give us water and gotten a lot of the local agents to give us support - messages, haircuts and everything else."
Many of the riders' family members plan to meet them July 24 at the conclusion of the ride at Virginia Beach.