Wounded vets to compete in Disney marathon
December 27, 2010
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Dec. 27, 2010) -- The Achilles Freedom Team of Wounded Veterans, composed of 11 athletes, will participate in the Walt Disney World Half Marathon Jan. 8, 2011.
The team will compete by running or using a handcrank wheelchair. It will be the first race of the New Year for the Freedom Team, which provides injured servicemembers the opportunity to train and compete in mainstream races throughout the country.
One of the participants will be returning event champion, retired Army Staff Sgt. Mike Fradera, 33.
Originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., now living in the Lakeland area of Florida, Mike served 10 years in the Army. He lost both his legs below the knee to an IED explosion Aug. 17, 2007, in Baghdad.
"I was taken to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, where I got fitted with prosthetic legs. Since then, I've competed in 13 marathons since my first one in Miami in January of 2009," Fradera said.
He was the first-place handcyclist in last year's Disney Half Marathon and trains regularly to represent Achilles in races throughout the year.
"I didn't really train for my first marathon," Fradera said. "I just went and did it and that gave me a wake-up call to start training because I didn't want to feel beat up like I did that day, ever again."
Seeing the other disabled athletes who are in a worse situation actually motivates Mike to do better.
"I enjoy meeting the other racers, but knowing that those worse off than me who don't complain, then why should I'" he asked.
His enjoyment at pushing himself has led him to be called a mentor by others.
"I don't think of myself as a mentor. I love talking to other disabled athletes because they motivate me. So, if anything, they are my mentors," Fradera said.
He also goes to Shriners Hospital for Children, where he likes to talk with the disabled kids.
"They have kids come from all over Florida. It's easy for them to talk with me after they see I'm also disabled, so they open up a lot easier. I also volunteer to help out a water ski group for people with disabilities," he said.
According to Genna Griffith, Achilles International public relations, this is the first race for most of the athletes, who are a very recently wounded team.
"Since 2004 when the program began, we constantly get new participants. We now have sponsored over 500 veterans for their training, adaptive equipment, race entry fees and logistical support to compete in prestigious mainstream races, including the New York, Chicago, Boston, and Marine Corps Marathons," Griffith said.
They don't do it alone, though. Shades of Green, one of four Armed Forces Recreation Centers will be donating their resources for the team.
"Members of the sales staff will come in at 2 a.m. to make and serve coffee to the participants, transport people and supplies to the race start, and cheer them across the finish line. We also distribute their park tickets from our Tickets and Attractions Office," Kimberly LaTendresse, director of marketing and advertising at Shades of Green, said.
Additionally, Shades of Green will provide space in the Magnolia Ballroom for race preparation and calibration of the handcycles, and donate a meal for the participants from Manginos Bistro at Shades of Green.
Most of the veterans will travel to Disney from Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C., where they are undergoing rehabilitation for combat injuries, through the courtesy of Veteran's Airlift Command.
"The trip, one of 14 the Achilles Freedom Team sponsors throughout the year, offers a chance for veterans to achieve, reclaim their past high level of physical activity, bond with peers facing similar challenges, and provide respite for struggling families," Griffith said.
Since its inception in 2004, the program has expanded to Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego and Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. All injured military personnel and veterans are eligible for the program, whether the injury is combat or non-combat related.
Achilles International is a not-for-profit providing mainstream athletic opportunities for people with disabilities. Founded in 1983, it has chapters throughout the United States and in 60 countries worldwide.
In 1976, Dick Traum, an above-the-knee amputee, found himself approaching middle age and out of shape. After joining a local YMCA, Dick began running small distances at first and then, eventually several miles.
Within a year, Dick became the first amputee to run the New York City Marathon. The experience was life changing, bringing a powerful sense of achievement and self-esteem.
In 1983, seeking to provide that same opportunity to other people with disabilities, Dick created the Achilles Track Club, now called Achilles International.
Today, this non-profit organization has chapters and members in more than 70 countries. Every day, in parks, gyms, and tracks all over the world, Achilles provides athletes with disabilities with a community of support.
Able-bodied volunteers and disabled runners come together to train in an environment of support and community. Within this community, runners gain measurable physical strength and build confidence through their sense of accomplishment, which often transfers to other parts of their life.
Over the years, Achilles has also developed specialized programs for children. Achilles Kids provides training, racing opportunities, and an in-school program for children with disabilities.