Monday, April 26, 2010
For the fourth year, I was fortunate to volunteer at the Face of America ride, a 110 mile bike ride from Washington, D.C. to historic Gettysburg. This year, there were close to 400 riders, which included close to 70 wounded warriors. All branches of the military were well represented, as well as civilians and other disabled athletes.
While this is not my first, and certainly not my last year, I remain humbled by the determination and stamina of our wounded warriors. Many of the warriors ride recumbent bikes, relying on just their upper body strength to power them across the many miles and ruthless hills. Since this is a ride and not a race, everyone works together to make it from one point to the other. Every rider who is able will help out those who are struggling.
I, along with Melissa, Teresa, Lynda, Meghan and Mike, had the pleasure of assisting our wounded warriors at the various rest stops. We transported their wheelchairs to each rest stop, so the riders could take a break from being on their bikes. We made sure they had anything they needed, whether it was something to drink or eat, rain ponchos, or just assistance getting to their wheelchairs. Whatever they needed, we were there. A special shout out to our navigators: Meghan, Lynda and Mike. Without your wonderful sense of direction and mad map reading skills, we were able to arrive at each location well ahead of the riders and have their wheelchairs ready. Thank you also to "my girls" Abby and Rachel. These lovely young ladies jumped right in and were able to assist us in so many ways. Whether it was helping us through a hectic registration, assisting in the care of Willie (one of the rider's service dog) or helping to distribute food at the rest stops, these gals were fantastic.
On a ride this long, you get to know the riders. Many are familiar faces from years past, many are new. It is wonderful seeing old friends and making new ones. Once you participate in this event, whether as a rider or volunteer, you cannot help but look forward to the next one. The ride grows in number each year, as does the pageantry. I cannot imagine the amount of man hours that go into planning and executing such an event, yet it runs almost seamlessly each year.
It is the final moments of the ride that pull at your heartstrings. All the riders gather together to arrive at the same time. The recumbent bikes lead the way, making their way the final few feet, while crowds cheer them on, as a majestic American flag waves them all in, perched high atop the ladder of a firetruck. Banners with notes of encouragement and gratitude have greeted our riders every step of the way, from the starting point, at every rest stop and then at the very end. Emotions run high; admiration, respect and pride are just a few felt by both the riders and spectators.
I encourage all to do what you can to be a part of this extraordinary event. If you can give of yourself for just a bit, more if you're able, you will be amazed, humbled and deeply touched by the perseverance of our wounded military servicemen and women who participate, who show us once more, anything is possible...
Saturday, April 10, 2010
This afternoon, I had the pleasure of attending the USA Hockey Disabled Festival. There were all ages represented, but my main reason for going was to see the warriors from WRAMC (Walter Reed Army Medical Center) battle it out with warriors from BAMC (Brooke Army Medical Center). This was a sled hockey competition and if you thought ice skating standing up, using both legs was rough, you should try balancing on a thin blade while seated, using only your upper body strength and hockey sticks to race you across the ice. Now try this missing one or both legs. There was a bit of everything out on the ice, but mostly, I witnessed courage and determination.
2008's Miss Virginia sang a beautiful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner before the start of the game. With my hand over my heart, it was impossible to keep a dry eye as I realized I was in the presence of some of the bravest young men I have had the pleasure of knowing, who's wounds may run deep, but they gladly sacrificed on our behalf.
What proceeded were 3 fast paced periods of 14 minutes each. I was rooting for the USA Warriors team, as it was made up of many of my Walter Reed warriors. However, as it turned out, there was also at least one Walter Reed alum on the San Antonio Rampage. I found myself just enjoying the game and marveling at the speed and skill of these athletes.
All in all, it was a great game; the USA Warriors fought tough, but the Rampage ended up with the victory. It wasn't just a great game; it was an inspiration, watching these wounded warriors working hard and never giving up, showing me once again, that anything is possible.
Stay tuned for part II in two weeks, when the Face of America bike ride brings together riders of all ages and athletic ability, but it will be the recovering wounded/ill warriors, past and present, that will bring tears to your eyes as they cross the finish line after a grueling 110 bike ride from Washington, D.C. to historic Gettysburg...