By Jim Dresbach, Pentagram NewspaperSeptember 21, 2011
ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, Sept. 20, 2011) -- Ride 2 Recovery cyclists pedaled more than 500 miles during an eight-day trip from New York to the Pentagon commemorating the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
The 9/11 Challenge began at Liberty State Park -- across the Hudson River from Ground Zero. Then the caravan moved west to Shanksville, Pa., and the final leg journeyed into the District of Columbia. Participants included active-duty service members, veterans, 9/11 first responders and survivors of the attacks in New York, rural Pennsylvania and Arlington.
More than 200 of them rode to heal and raise donations and provide awareness of America's wounded warriors.
Even a week removed from the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the bike-riding odyssey did not go unnoticed. Family members, friends and the Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James F. Amos greeted the riders at the Pentagon Memorial during their mid-afternoon arrival Sept. 18.
"During this great ride, you showed a resilience -- you brought something positive to us," Amos said during remarks made to the riders. "This is something significant, and I'm proud of you. You did this for more than yourselves. You did this for the American people."
Up to the R2R 9/11 Classic ride, Debra Burlingame, a sister of the late Flight 77 pilot Charles Burlingame, associated the Pentagon with sadness and the terrorist crash of her brother's plane, but her grief subsided when she addressed a throng of 200-plus riders who just coasted down Arlington's Columbia Pike.
During her emotionally-charged words to the bikers, she called them patriots and American royalty.
"This [the Pentagon] has been a sad place for myself and my family, but when I came around the bend and saw the Air Force Memorial and the Pentagon today, that was the biggest thrill I've had in 10 years," Burlingame told the cyclists of her anticipation of their arrivals.
"This has been an intensely emotional week," she said. "We lost some magnificent people that day (on Sept. 11, 2001). They are never coming back. For me as a national security activist, the 9/11 story has not ended yet. We still have many men and women deployed in very dangerous places. We live in a dangerous world still, and that's why these people are so important to me. When I said they are American royalty, they are."
The final segment of the ride found cyclists receiving a police escort to Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va., for an appreciation dinner at the community center. Lining McNair Road were JBM-HH commander Col. Carl R. Coffman, Command Sgt. Maj. Necati Akpinar, the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps and well-wishers from the USO and ladies from the Wallace, N.C., American Legion Auxiliary, who made the four and a half hour car trip to Northern Virginia to present R2R with a $500 check.
During remarks to participants, Coffman acknowledged retired Gen. George W. Casey Jr., former chief of staff of the Army, who was a part of the ride and told R2R executive director John Wordin and the riders that JBM-HH's gates are always open.
"We are very proud to sponsor anything or provide any support for Ride 2 Recovery," Coffman said. "What you guys have done for a nation can't be repaid in any way."
And what many of the riders have done is extraordinary.
A novice rider and only in a bike seat for less than a year, Sgt. 1st Class Jose Rivera of Ft. Eustis, Va., battled steep climbs, altitude and severe temperature swings to tackle eight days of pedaling.
"I really received a boost when we came up on Gettysburg," Rivera said. "To remember what those (Civil War) Soldiers went through pushed me. It was something amazing to push each other to Shanksville. We went through some bad weather, but there was a spiritual energy out there between us."
Amputee Dan O'Connor also ran the NYC to D.C. gauntlet and its 530 miles. The 64-year-old Marine veteran lost part of his left leg in Vietnam and now is a hand-crank wheelchair team coach at Quantico Marine Corps Base, Va. He has a unique perspective on losing a limb.
"It was a blessing losing this leg," he said with some emotion in his voice. "I now get to work and ride with these kids."
Wordin, the R2R organizer, did not forget the others who joined service members combating the curves and hills of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland.
"We had people on the ride who were responders or who had relatives killed (in the attacks)," Wordin said. "Many of these guys joined the military because of 9/11. To be able to show them the history and everything that took place (at the sites) makes this very, very special."
Coffman noted that R2R is more than just an eight-day bike outing -- it is a healing process for both the body and the mind for many Soldiers.
"Some of these guys are still recovering from wounds and getting themselves back in shape. You've got some guys who are amputees. You've got some guys who have lost their sight or hearing. This is part of the recovery process from being on the battlefield. Many feel it is better for them to do it outside than in a gym or some physical therapy facility."