By Mr. Scott K Nielsen (USACE)May 26, 2010
SAN FRANCISCO -- Through much fanfare and the support of family members and the local community of San Francisco, 18 of our nation's heroes embarked on a journey from San Francisco to Virginia Beach Va.
Their 63-day, 4000-mile journey began Friday, May 21, with a signing of San Francisco's first Army Community Covenant at the Presidio Officer's Club dinner to honor the riders.
Unlike other bike rides across the U.S., the Sea to Shining Sea Ride is composed of wounded warriors, veterans who are overcoming injuries they received while serving their country.
Rider Andrew Hartzell shattered his right femur and spent three years at Walter Reed Medical Center, undergoing surgeries and physical therapy. He wants to let other wounded veterans know that there is still a lot they can accomplish.
"Since I learned I was able to ride a bike again, it has been my dream to ride across the country," said Hartzell.
The journey holds special significance for the riders, each one with a story of struggling to recover from their injuries and finding ways to cope with their new lives.
Clay Rankin uses a special bike that lets him lie flat relieving the pressure on his back so he can pedal.
He said the adjustment to life after his injury was really difficult.
"Realizing that I always need someone to help me move around was not easy, but I get on my bike, and I am able to move, and I can have that freedom again," he said.
After a spinal cord Injury in Iraq in 2003, Rankin said he needed two years to heal, but since then, he has worked as an advocate for other wounded veterans.
Rankin said the ride is an opportunity to shed light on the struggles of injured veterans and to help them and others' understand that there is life after injury.
"If I can demonstrate to at least one wounded vet that there is life after an injury, then this journey is worth it," said Rankin.
As they move across the country, they will be joined by other wounded warriors and their friends and families to show support. Not all participants are able to go the entire way, but at each stop, they will be greeted by other wounded warriors.
"Hopefully we can help other wounded veterans see that there is still so much they can do," said Hartzell.
Bay Area military community groups and veterans organizations paid tribute to the riders as they signed the Army Community Covenant which is an agreement between local communities and the Army to improve the quality of life for servicemembers and their families, both at their current duty stations and while they are deployed.
"All of us gathered from the San Francisco Bay Community send out our well wishes and prayers with you on your journey. Please be assured we will be with you in spirit," said Brig. Gen. Rock Donahue, the commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers South Pacific Division.
"The strength of our servicemembers comes from the strength of their families; and the strength of the families is supported by the strength of the community; and the strength of the community ultimately comes from the support of employers, educators, civic and business leaders, and of course, its citizens," said Donahue.
The Sea to Shining Sea trek is a great opportunity for communities across America to connect with our military-especially our wounded warriors-and change the way the world perceives all athletes, said Donahue.
"Since most riders are disabled veterans - many from Iraq and Afghanistan - the ride is providing Americans dramatic proof that disabled veterans can accomplish amazing feats most people dream about", said Donahue.
The Sea to Shining Sea Bike Ride is sponsored by World TEAM Sports, a non-profit dedicated to changing the way the world perceives athletes by creating sports opportunities for individuals of all abilities. The riders will update their progress and write about their trip on the website www.s2ssbikeride.org