A few weeks ago, my operations manager, Jakob, asked me if I wanted to provide tech support and ride with Ride 2 Recovery, a bike ride that the USO (United Service Organizations) puts on for injured veterans. Being an injured vet myself from Operation Iraqi Freedom, I jumped at the chance to help my brothers in arms. Going into the ride, I was not expecting the life changing experience that I had!
As the first day rolled around, I met up with Pinkey and soon realized that this was going to be a very long trip. Once we got to the hotel where everyone was meeting, it was pure chaos! Bikes everywhere and no riders. Apparently, no one got the memo that this thing was starting at noon. As the riders started to trickle down from their rooms, Pinkey and I started working on bikes. Now, Pinkey is one of the best techs that I have ever seen, and I’m pretty good myself, but the sheer amount of bikes to be worked on was almost overwhelming as the problems started to pour in.
As the chaos started to die down, we heard a lot of commotion from the other rooms. What happened next I will never forget. The president of the USO and some of the Joint Chiefs walked through the door to get fitted on their bikes. Talk about pressure, right? As Pinkey and I made our way through their bodyguards, what was a full room of riders and bikes now stood empty with the higher-ups and us. With all eyes on Pinkey and I, we went to work on their bikes.
When we made our way to the opening ceremony and the start of the ride, I started to realize what this ride was all about. Seeing guys with one leg or no legs riding bikes was very moving, to say the least. As tech support, no one really knows that you’re there until they need you, but I gave them all of my support as we started the ride from Whipple Field at Ft. Myer to Manassas, a 48.5-mile ride. The injured vets and handcycles had something to prove, and they did as they made it to Manassas, many of them ahead of the other riders.
Just when I thought that it was time to take a cold shower after being in the 90-degree heat all day, we were called to dinner. We pulled up in a couple of tour buses to an American Legion and had to pass through a line of people on both sides of us that were there to support us. These people just wanted to shake our hands and thank us for the service we had done and the sacrifices we had made. As we walked into the hall, it seemed like a five-star hotel serving us dinner. We were waited on hand and foot and had all-you-can-drink beer. Now, I’m not a big drinker, but it was almost magical sitting there with these guys drinking and telling stories.
As the first day came to a close, Pinkey and I went to our room. This is where the real adventure began- there were two of us, but only one bed! We both looked at each other as if we had just met and had a very long awkward period of silence. “I’ll sleep on the couch,” Pinkey said. In the middle of the night, Pinkey crawled into bed. By the time I woke up, you would have thought we were a married couple. We began our day with yet another very long awkward period of silence.
Day two started a little smoother than day one, and I was riding with the guys! I was pumped to be privileged enough to ride with these guys and wanted to make the best of it. Little did I know that it was going to be hotter than the day before and a longer ride. Day two was Manassas to Fredericksburg, a 55-mile ride. Well, 55 miles for the guys that didn’t have to turn around and help people. I ended up riding about 80 miles that day, and most of it was pushing people up hills, so it felt twice as long.
Towards the end of the ride, the weather started to look a little dark and we were all hoping that the rain would hold off. Being in the very last group, we got to the hotel much later than everyone else did. As we were riding into the parking lot, the rain started to pour down. As everyone went inside to escape the monsoon that was upon us, Pinkey and I, with the help of some of the other support vehicle drivers, managed to get all the bikes in from the rain.
As I woke up with half my body hurting from pushing these guys up the hills, and without Pinkey, who had gone back to work, I thought that this was going to be a good, easy day just driving the van and picking up people and handing out water. Maybe fix a bike here or there. Of course, that was wishful thinking. After breakfast, I made my way to the van a few hours early to get ahead on repairs.
After doing fits, fixing shifters, and repacking bottom brackets, I was on my way, driving in the van with the AC on and watching these guys ride some bikes. Good day, until… within the first five miles, I needed to pick up three people. There are only two seats in the van and I’m hauling bikes, food and water, so someone is riding on the roof. Luckily, another support truck came and got the riders while I got their bikes. The ride on the third day was from Fredericksburg to Richmond, a 64-mile ride. After stopping almost every 10 miles or so, I began to realize that the guys who are missing limbs weren’t pushing themselves because they have something to prove, but because they’re having fun and enjoying every mile of the ride.
Once we got to Richmond, it was all cheers for the guys that had completed 64 miles in just under six hours. Although I wanted to cheer on and talk with the guys much more, I needed to get home. I was privileged to drive back with one of the guys named Jeremiah Workman, a customer of ours in Stafford where I work. As we talked on the ride back, I learned that Jeremiah was a Marine and wrote a book, “Shadow of the Sword.” It’s about how he lost four of his guys in Iraq and had a hard time dealing with it, among many other challenges. He was awarded the Purple Heart and the Navy Cross. It turned out that we had more in common than I thought and that it goes to show that you don’t need to be missing any limbs to be disabled. We both suffered from pretty bad PTSD and had a hard time getting back to normal life. I wanted to ask so many more questions as we pulled up to his house. He gave me a copy of his book and told me he’ll be in the shop and we can talk any time.
Seeing Jeremiah and seeing the struggles he had to go through made me think that not only are the guys who are missing limbs going through pain on the outside, but they still have a war going on in their mind, just as we had. As I was driving back home, I made calls to some of the contacts I had made with the Ride 2 Recovery and found out when they have their next one. Getting these guys out on their bikes felt better than I could ever have thought. It’s getting their minds off of the problems that they are going through. I’m no baby, but I was brought to tears seeing some of these guys work so hard to feel normal again.