By David VergunSeptember 12, 2015
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 12, 2015) -- In 2012, Stefan LeRoy, a cavalry scout with the 82nd Airborne Division, stepped on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan while carrying a fellow Soldier who was injured.
LeRoy's world had just been turned upside-down. In that instant, he became a double-amputee, losing one leg above the knee and the other just below the knee.
Months and months of painful surgeries followed. Although therapists had fitted him with prosthetics and were trying to help him walk again, there were days, even months, when he couldn't budge, he said.
The therapies eventually paid off, though. First he learned to handcycle, then to walk again, and then to run, he said.
On Sept. 12, he entered his first race on an upright, or conventional, bicycle. Technicians at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland crafted a special pair of prosthetics that would give him the flexibility needed to rotate his legs and press on the pedals.
LeRoy was recognized by Ride 2 Recovery, or R2R, by being given the honor of starting the race, which began in a Pentagon parking lot and wound through Arlington and Alexandria neighborhoods. The event involved two courses, one 18 miles long, and the other 45 miles long.
"Stefan inspires all of us," said Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, who delivered opening remarks at the start of the race. Allyn himself was one of the several dozen race participants, which included wounded veterans from all the services as well as supporters. There were also a lot of supporters on hand who did not race.
John Wordin, president and founder of R2R, said LeRoy's "story is magnified today by so many who came out." He added that the military, including the vice chief, have been very supportive of R2R and veterans in general.
Before the race, LeRoy said that Army surgeons and therapists had been instrumental in helping him through the physical recovery process. But he also said that "a huge part of the recovery is mental.
"You've probably seen people here giving people hugs," he pointed out. That's "because they know people around here. It's a family. You ride together with these people. You recognize people and you know that you like them and you're going to ride with them."
Before the race, Allyn said organizations like R2R "support our wounded veterans and all our veterans." Supporting these veterans should be "a lifetime commitment" by the Army and the nation.
This isn't Allyn's first R2R event. He said he participated in one when he was in Fort Hood, Texas, commanding the 1st Cavalry Division. "We all went out there cheering for them as they came through [the post] as part of their ride. They're always such an inspiring group to be around."
He said that "when you get around our wounded warriors, and, really, anybody who's served, you can't help but be inspired. And, when you meet people like that you want to spend time with them."
"Most of our kids who've been wounded have been less than 30 years old," said Allyn as he prepared to ride. "So we hope they're going to have at least 50 or 60 more years of life that's supported by a nation that recognizes the sacrifices they've made in service to their country. This is a part of what keeps me going."
NOT JUST IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETS
Paul Wolf was one of the older racers. The medically-retired, Vietnam-era vet said he got injured while on a ship in the South China Sea in the early 1970s. He spent three years recovering from his injuries.
"Being knocked down doesn't mean you can't get up," he said. "I used to beat myself up a lot not knowing there were others that had the same stresses coming home." He said friends like those in the race had helped him through the recovery process.
Joe McLaughlin, a non-veteran, traveled from Boston with four other riders and three volunteers to show support for veterans. He said he learned about R2R after reading a "Sports Illustrated" story about double amputee Marine veteran Rob Jones.
Jones' story so moved McLaughlin, that he said he contacted Jones and began riding with him in races. Although Jones wasn't at this race, McLaughlin said he's hooked on supporting veterans and plans to keep riding with any of them whenever possible.
Another non-veteran who came out to show support was Anthony Clarke, a Defense Department civilian working in Alexandria. He said he rides bicycles recreationally. A friend invited him to ride in this race.
He too said he felt "honored to support those who sacrificed so much, putting themselves in harm's way. This is a way to give back."
Sara Bell, R2R's executive assistant and Women's Initiative director, flew in from Los Angeles. She said this is the first R2R event in the nation's capital and she's excited to ride.
Anthony Davila, a Navy veteran, sustained a back injury in Iraq while on a small-boat operation. He also has traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress. He rides a recumbent bike.
Davila said he's been making a lot of friends here and was glad to see so much support, even from non-veterans.
Darrin Snyder was in the Marines from 1985 to 1988. He injured his legs while training at Camp Pendleton, California, and he too rides a recumbent bike after five years of operating a handcycle, where leg power is not required.
Unfortunately, Snyder said he recently suffered the loss of one of his best friends, a chocolate lab service dog, who died of cancer. He and his fiancé, Jackie Dowdy, were at the event with a new lab pup named Skylar.
Snyder and Dowdy met during his recovery. She was working for United Way at the time and was his caregiver. They reside in Norfolk, Virginia, where Snyder earned his bachelor's degree in Recreational Therapy. He used his G.I. Bill to go to school.
Ride 2 Recovery began in 2008. The first R2R Challenge event was held with 14 riders and no staff. By 2010, R2R held six rides across the United States, each with an average of 170 participants. In 2011, R2R was up to seven rides per year. The last ride of 2011 was the first to be held in Europe. That ride was called "Challenge in Europe: The Normandy Challenge," which traced the steps of D-Day and subsequent battles. In 2012, R2R added the Battle of the Bulge Challenge.
The Honor Rides Series raises awareness and is the funding arm for R2R. It gives the public the opportunity to ride with healing heroes and military on a non-competitive, fun ride. Close to 20 honor rides will take place throughout the year, with varying distances from 10 to 100 miles. All funds raised through the Honor Ride Series support Project Hero programs throughout the United States.