Wounded, ill and injured Soldiers embark on Where Heroes Rendezvous 101 mile bike ride
By Annette P. Gomes, Warrior Care and Transition

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky., - The state of Kentucky is known for its rolling hills, streams, springs and diverse landscapes, and now the site of the 2019 Where Heroes Rendezvous 101 mile bike ride that goes around Fort Campbell, Kentucky and its surrounding communities. The event, formally known as the Bluegrass Rendezvous, featured 70 wounded, ill and injured Soldiers from Fort Campbell and Fort Stewart, Georgia including leaders from the Fort Campbell Warrior Transition Battalion. The ride is one of many adaptive outreach programs available for Soldiers.

Riders began training in the spring of 2019, often riding twice a week. U.S. Army Lt. Col. Heath Holt, Commander, Fort Campbell Warrior Transition Battalion, says adaptive reconditioning plays a key role in a Soldiers recovery.

"This program is amazing and we're here to help people realize what their challenges are and help them overcome their challenges and get on to the next thing. There is more out there for them," Holt said. "There's a level of resilience that shines through and the race is a great example of that. It is also great to see Soldiers come from far and wide participating."

Retired U.S. Army Sgt. Shawn Lowney traveled 1200 hundred miles from Massachusetts and retired U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Brian McCord, arrived from Fort Stewart to participate in this year's ride. Both agree the event was about more than physical activity.

"I have a variety of injuries ranging from a traumatic brain injury to a bilateral shoulder tear. My body was broken, but Fort Campbell's Warrior Transition Battalion picked me back up," Lowney said. "It is an awesome feeling to be here and be around people that understand you and you simply don't feel like you are alone."

"This was my first ride and I simply want to give back and I said if I ever got the opportunity I was going to do just that," McCord added.

For first time participant U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Geoff Wagner, a Religious Affairs Specialist at Fort Campbell, the ride was deeply personal. After enduring major back injuries coupled with a diagnosis of stenosis, an abnormal narrowing of blood vessels, Wagner healed at the Fort Campbell WTB where he was introduced to the adaptive reconditioning sports program.

"I initially met with Lindsey Davison, the Physical Therapist here at Fort Campbell, and we created a living profile. It consisted of what I could do since my injuries as opposed to what I could not do," Wagner explained. "I have rods and screws in my back and the stenosis didn't help, but I found a recumbent bike felt right and allowed me to move with little to no pain. I have lost 27 pounds over the last three months." This was also a tribute to my father and his love of bike competitions. I practiced on his 45-year-old bike while training," he added.

Davison says the healing process is an opportunity for growth and works hard to help her Soldiers find a way to do something that can give them a sense of worth and purpose as well as help them adjust to their new normal post-injury or illness.

"[Some Soldiers] feel broken and we tell them they are absolutely not broken. We tell them that they have more opportunities now than ever before," Davison said. "By the time they get to us they need an energy, mental and emotional well-being booster. I do not say no to anybody who comes through our doors. Maybe they want to feel the wind in their hair they once felt when they rode motorcycles and can no longer ride them and a recumbent bike will fill that void. It is the wellness wheel."

U.S Army Sgt. 1st Class Ian Crawley says he has "pedaled a mile" in the participants shoes. With three abdominal surgeries and two lower back injuries, which resulted in nephropathy and radiculopathy in his left calf and foot along with the loss of movement in his toes, he says participating in this year's ride was a no brainer.

"Crossing the finish line was great. I was glad to have completed the ride, I was more excited for those who had never ridden 100 miles at one time," Crawley said.

Community members cheered and held up good luck signs along the route as participants completed the ride in approximately 10 hours. Crossing the finish line was an emotional moment for Wagner as he summed up the day's race.

"I'm dedicating this race to my friend Staff Sgt. Eric Allen Griffith. I just learned he passed and he was just 36 years-old," Wagner said. "Eric served God and his country well and it was an honor to serve with a man of integrity and conviction. It makes you realize you have to live your life to the fullest, you may have to make some adjustments, but make every day count."