Passion for cycling leads Kaiserslautern wounded warrior to compete
May 1, 2012
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RAMSTEIN-MIESENBACH, Germany (May 1, 2012) -- Reduced oxygen simulates higher elevations to help Staff Sgt. Spencer Anderson train for the cycling in Colorado at the 2012 Warrior Games.
Anderson, an Army medic, is among 30 Soldiers and 20 veterans representing the Army at the third annual Warrior Games, a week-long event for wounded troops in Colorado Springs, Colo. Events includes cycling, archery, wheelchair basketball, shooting, swimming, track and field and sitting volleyball. The games run from April 30 to May 5.
Cycling keeps Anderson, a Soldier wounded in combat, on a positive track. He started cycling 16 months ago. Now, it's part of a routine, something productive that's motivated him to compete.
"Cycling has been a phenomenal tool for me," Anderson said. "It probably saved my life."
Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Wisconsin native left Asbury University in Wilmore, Ky., joined the Army and was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division. In 2007, while deployed to Tikrit, Iraq, with the 1st Battalion, 319th Field Artillery Regiment, a roadside bomb exploded a few feet from Anderson's Humvee. The combat medic remembers a flash of light before losing consciousness.
He finished his 15-month tour, filled with intense and seemingly endless days, in Oct. 2007. Three years ago, he married his wife, Lorena, who's been his biggest supporter, he said. After serving at Fort Gordon, Ga., Anderson arrived at U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern -- where he now serves at the Warrior Transition Unit at Kleber Kaserne.
Cycling, Anderson found, is a great outlet for someone recovering from post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury -- where bouts of anger come easily and often, Anderson said.
"When I'm angry, when I'm agitated, I can go out and just pound the pedals as hard as I want until I'm tired," Anderson said. "Then come home and I feel better."
Last year in Landstuhl, Anderson met hero Lance Armtstrong, who gave him Anderson bracelet he wears when riding. He's since cycled in veteran's events in Florida and Normandy, France -- where a five-day tour through World War II battle sites ended with a leg of the Tour de France. In March, Anderson cycled during clinics at Fort Meade, Md. and qualified for the Warrior Games.
He's overcome more recent obstacles. In March, while driving to work, traffic built up on the A-6 autobahn in Kaiserslautern. A large truck slammed into Anderson's car, pushing him several hundred feet.
"His bumper is in my door and he's pushing. There's nothing I could do," Anderson said. "I said, 'God, can you help me, because I'm scared.'"
Anderson's car hit the guard rail. The driver told him he didn't know he'd struck a car and kept on the gas. Since then, training has been a little painful. But Anderson's confident he'll be ready for the upcoming competition.
In the Kaiserslautern Military Community, the American Red Cross is known for emergency messages, safety courses and volunteering. The organization's outreach efforts, which includes a partnership with the Wounded Warrior Project, expands its programs and helps service members, said Kathleen Butler, senior station manager at Ramstein Air Base.
"Through this partnership, we've been able to bring a new resource into the community in supporting joint services," Butler said.
Together, they support Anderson's training at Physio Balance Neubert, a local gym that offers Alpine sessions -- riding with less oxygen. The gym's owner has also been a supporter, Anderson said, extending scheduled training time and connecting Anderson with an experienced cyclist for advice.
Wounded troops evolve and get better through physical activity, said Carol Porter, Wounded Warrior Project's manager of alumni, who has seen troops "get that edge back."
"They've gone from having so much pain to realizing with a lot of training and help, they are able to get back to an active lifestyle," Porter said. "They don't give up."