ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- A U.S. Army veteran turned engineer raised more than $10,000 cycling across Texas for wounded veterans.David A. McClung rode 350 miles alongside wounded warriors and their supporters in the Ride 2 Recovery, or R2R, Don't Mess with Texas Challenge, April 16-22.McClung works for the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command's communications-electronics center, or CERDEC, as an engineer in the Command, Power & Integration Directorate. He serves as the U.S. Army Electronic Proving Ground director for the Operational Test Command at Fort Hood, Texas."I grew up in the country and rode my bike a lot as a kid, but I started seriously riding again about three years ago," said 60-year-old McClung. "I rode the Austin to Ft. Hood leg of it [the Texas Challenge] for the past two years. Last year, I said to myself that I was going to commit and do the full ride."R2R partners with the Military and Veteran Affairs Volunteer Service Office to raise money for cycling programs that benefit the country's wounded veterans through the Mental and Physical Rehabilitation program, said Maria Alvarado, an R2R spokesperson. Cycling can play a critical role in the rehabilitation process because it keeps individuals active and helps speed up recovery time, she said."I truly believe that a lot of Americans want to help wounded warriors," said McClung. "If you give them the opportunity, they will rise to the occasion. That's what Ride 2 Recovery does."McClung started training for the ride Jan 1. He clocked more than 100 hours of riding--totaling 1,785 miles in preparation for the Texas Challenge. Those miles were spread over several rides, five more than 65 miles, with the longest at 88 miles. While training, McClung also started collecting donations. To take part in the ride, each civilian rider is expected to raise $3,000 as part of the fundraising goal of the challenge as a whole."That fundraising goal goes toward the cost of the bikes, hotel arrangements and food for the veterans because they don't pay anything to participate," said Alvarado.McClung raised more than triple his initial fundraising goal for the challenge, with a final total of $10, 788. He attributes that total to the support he had throughout his journey in the Texas Challenge. Even his two young grandsons donated money from their allowances."When you call on friends and family to help you with something and more than 100 answer that call, including some friends at CERDEC--it's an amazing thing," said McClung.
"He's very humble. He doesn't take any credit for anything, and he's so selfless and so quick to give back to others," said Rex Howe, chief of operations division of CP&I, who hired McClung for his position at Fort Hood and actively followed McClung's journey during the Texas Challenge. "Dave has done more and given more of himself in this one event than most people do in their lifetime. He is a tremendous example for others."
In addition to gathering donations, participants ride in honor of a wounded warrior. McClung rode in honor of Capt. Larkin O'Hern. O'Hern was injured in Afghanistan on Dec. 31, 2010 when the IED his platoon was trying to disarm exploded. O'Hern sustained extensive injuries, losing both legs and his right hand.McClung knew of O'Hern's story prior to the Texas Challenge and reached out to his father, expressing his desire to ride in O'Hern's honor. After months of rehabilitation and training for the Texas Challenge, O'Hern rode during the first day of the challenge on a handbike using prosthetics. His longest ride in training was just 15 miles, but O'Hern not only finished the 57-mile course on day one, he finished with the fastest group of riders."It was a great milestone for him," said McClung. "For him to get to ride with other wounded Soldiers from the Center for the Intrepid was very special.""Riding in honor of someone and being able to ride alongside them--it makes it very personal. It makes it that much more important, that much more emotional," said McClung. "The significance of it, the meaning--it skyrockets."Starting in San Antonio on April 16, the Texas Challenge moved north across Texas over six days, ending in Arlington. The cyclists rode for several hours completing between 50 and 60 miles per day and resting at night. Two hundred participants completed the entire journey, while those in the early stages of rehabilitation participated in a one-day stretch of the ride."The Texas challenge is one of the favorites [of all the challenges sponsored by R2R]," said Alvarado. "It's one of the largest and one of the first we started. There's so much excitement and support--people love that ride."Along the route were schools, hospitals and various military installations. Children donned in red, white and blue lined the fences of school yards with signs and American flags, cheering on the cyclists. Older students held out their hands to give high-fives to the riders as they passed by, said McClung."It is so fantastic to see them recognize the service and the sacrifice of our veterans," said McClung. "That level of support is pretty special too. When I joined the Army right after Vietnam, we didn't have that support. We couldn't wear our uniforms outside."The fifth day of the ride was a challenge of the elements for the cyclists--they had to ride through wind and rain. The riders also suffered from chafing resulting from riding on a bicycle for extended periods of time. McClung cited the accidents and discomforts as simply the nature of the sport.At the end of the ride, with 374 miles on his odometer including the Clay Hunt Memorial Ride on April 22, McClung reflected on the entire experience, commenting on the mix of emotions and what he learned. He mentioned what he described as a miracle of a group working together toward a common goal. He also spoke of the camaraderie between riders as the veterans cycled toward recovery and a new phase in their life."When I was in the Army, a lot of Soldiers went through traumatic experiences, but we called it shell-shocked. We didn't know about PTSD," said McClung. "I'm an engineer, not a soft scientist by any means, and I think I discounted the effect it can have on people--the emptiness and loneliness."McClung has been asked by R2R to participate in the Minuteman Challenge in September cycling from Boston to West Point. O'Hern and his father plan to ride the entire Minuteman Challenge and begin training soon.
"Of course it [riding with O'Hern] would be incredibly special," said McClung. "I was hesitant to ask my family and friends to support another ride this year, but they have already called pledging their support."McClung has a month to decide whether to participate in the Minuteman Challenge but what is decided is that McClung will "absolutely" participate in the Texas Challenge in 2013."It's a life changing experience to have the opportunity to ride any distance with a wounded warrior. If you have the chance to do it, you absolutely should. It's so worthwhile to experience part of their journey," he said.