Warriors ride: Travel 350 miles through central Texas to recovery
Veronica Landry Johnson,
Headquarters Fort Bliss:
The Fort Bliss Project Hero Warrior Transition Unit Bike Club participated in the Ride2Recovery Texas Challenge April 16 through 21, taking on a grueling route of rolling hills and winding roads from San Antonio to Dallas. R2R is a Department of Defense-backed organization that benefits mental and physical rehabilitation programs for wounded veterans, featuring cycling as the core activity. They hold several challenges in different locations throughout the world each year.
Five-time R2R participant 1st Sgt. Robert Ferrara, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Warrior Transition Battalion, is the noncommissioned officer in charge of the bike club and a recovering wounded Soldier.
“When you complete [an R2R] challenge you feel like nothing can stop you in your recovery process,” he said. “A lot of Soldiers get down because they are injured and can’t do traditional Army [physical training]. This gives them a new outlook on their physical abilities and gives them hope – something that every Soldier needs to recover.”
The 12 riders representing Fort Bliss began their 350-mile journey at the Center for the Intrepid in San Antonio. The group of 220 riders from military posts and Veterans Affairs systems across the country traveled from San Antonio to San Marcos, then to Austin, before arriving in Killeen on Day 3. Along the route, more than 9,000 school children lined the streets to wave flags, slap high-fives and cheer on the cyclists.
After arriving in Killeen, Fort Hood greeted the riders with a dinner at Club Hood, a ceremony at the III Corps Headquarters building and a huge send-off. The R2R group rode approximately 10 miles throughout the post, with thousands of Soldiers, family members and civilians offering support and encouragement.
“It was awesome! Texas does things like nobody else – and Fort Hood was no exception. To see the units on post cheering for us meant a lot to everyone on the ride; it was very motivational,” said three-time R2R participant Sgt. 1st Class David Coles, A Co., WTB, who is recovering from a serious spinal cord injury.
Fort Hood was just the beginning of the day’s 75-mile trek to Waco, one of the longest one-day routes along the way. However, the long route on the fourth day was certainly not the worst. Most of the riders agreed that the fifth day – a taxing journey through thunderstorms, a 25 mile per hour headwind and rolling hills – was the toughest day of the Texas Challenge. Capt. Katherine Williams, cadre and logistics officer for the WTB, elaborated.
“The rain, the headwind and just dreary conditions made the ride very difficult,” said Williams. “Not to mention that it was later in the week so my legs were already tired and sore.”
Maj. Bryan Swiney, who rides a recumbent bike due to his back and shoulder injuries, had an even bigger challenge in the rain – being very close to the ground.
“You pick up a lot of road debris, water splashing from your own tires and the other recumbent bikes and hand cycles in front of you,” said Swiney. “The cold weather made my joints very sore.”
Even so, Swiney managed to keep a positive attitude as he accomplished new goals along the 66-mile ride.
“This day puts the ‘C’ in Challenge!” Swiney said. “We are out here to challenge – not just our bodies but mind, heart and soul.”
The final day was a short ride in compared to the previous five days. The Texas Challenge concluded with a 42-mile ride into Arlington. The cyclists crossed the finish line with a sense of accomplishment.
First-time R2R challenge participant Staff Sgt. David Haggerty knows that feeling all too well. The 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, Soldier was shot during a firefight in Afghanistan five months ago, shattering his pelvis and taking out much of his intestines.
“This was tougher than I thought it would be,” Haggerty said.
Two months ago he was using a walker for mobility. As soon as he was able to walk on his own, he immediately picked up cycling again.
“I was a mountain biker before, so this is a good fit for me,” Haggerty said.
Ferrara said completing difficult physical events such as R2R challenges builds teamwork and resilience for all who are involved.
“There is no better feeling than to see new riders who are hesitant in their recovery complete a 350-mile bike ride,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what injury you have, everyone gets something out of the challenge. It builds resiliency while working together with other veterans and civilians; it’s great therapy.”
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