Ride 2 Recovery: The 2011 Texas Challenge
When the convoy leaves San Antonio, the group will be more than 200 strong. Together they’ll face the physical and mental challenges posed by a six day, 350 mile cycling tour that ends in Arlington, Texas. The participants are members of the United States military who have been injured and are now in rehabilitation. They’ll use recumbents, hand cycles, or traditional road bikes to travel the distance, and the support and camaraderie of their fellow cyclists to meet the challenge.
Many of the bikes have been custom-fitted to accommodate the unique needs of the rider. The cycles and the Challenge event are provided free-of-charge to active duty U.S. military by Ride 2 Recovery, a non-profit organization that is making a difference in the lives of wounded warriors through cycling. In its first year of operation, Ride 2 Recovery purchased 20 bikes. Fifty-five cyclists participated in two Challenge events held on the east coast and in California. In 2010, 275 cycles were purchased and over 3,000 participated in six Challenge rides across the United States. This year the program plans seven events, including the “Don’t Mess with Texas Challenge” that begins on March 28, 2011 at the Center for the Intrepid in San Antonio.
Ride 2 Recovery has already made a difference in the life of US Army CH-47 Juan Carlos Hernandez. Hernandez was injured in October 2009 during an aerial mission over the valleys of Afghanistan. His plane was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, causing severe damage to his right lower leg that required below-the-knee amputation. During subsequent outpatient treatment, Hernandez’ therapist recommended the Texas Challenge to him. Juan Carlos accepted the challenge and had this to say about his experience, “When I ride my bike, I feel relaxed. Free. It is as if nothing else in the world mattered. It helps keep my mind clear and focused. Riding my bicycle has dramatically helped me with my walking and my quick recovery; it has not only helped me physically, but also mentally.”
Hernandez is one of many event participants who consider other riders to be their extended family. New friendships are made and cemented on the road where cyclists ride in ability matched groups for five to six hours per day. Stories, laughter, and an important sense of normalcy are shared among athletes who have a unique understanding of the trauma inflicted by war and the ongoing challenges of recovery.
Cyclists are supported on the road by the USO and American Legion, as well as friends, family, and schoolchildren who line the streets to cheer the riders on their way. Corporate sponsors like UnitedHealthcare, and celebrity sponsors have helped to increase awareness of Ride 2 Recovery events, and have been important to the program’s steady growth since its 2008 inception. At the 2011 Texas Challenge, American Idol season 5 winner Taylor Hicks will perform for the cyclists, invited guests, and other ticketholders. Mr. Hicks will have the opportunity to meet and spend time with the troops the day prior to the event.
Sponsors are important to the future of Ride 2 Recovery. Program goals include growth of indoor and outdoor cycling programs at U.S. military Warrior Transition Units and possible expansion to Department of Veterans Affairs facilities.
This summer the program welcomes new advocates – the students and faculty of St. Paul’s School, Concord, NH. Seven high school students will cycle 3,568 miles across country from Seattle, WA to York, ME in support of military veterans and Ride 2 Recovery. The fundraising trip begins soon after school is dismissed for the year and is expected to conclude on July 30. Each student will cycle in tandem with a wounded warrior; that warrior’s photo will come along for the ride, tucked safely into the student’s pack each day. The fundraising goal is $100,000.
In just a few short years, Ride 2 Recovery has already shown that cycling can play a significant role in the rehabilitation of physical and mental injuries, ranging from loss of limb(s) to post traumatic stress disorder. Cycling can also be a lifelong activity and a source of shared pleasure with family and friends. It’s also true that cycling can be a stress reliever, and not just for the rider. As one veteran’s wife suggested during a brief moment of tension, “Go ride your bike!”
For more on Ride 2 Recovery: http://ride2recovery.com/
To donate to Ride 2 Recovery: http://ride2recovery.com/r2r-sponsor-a-rider.html
For more on the St. Paul’s School cyclists: http://www.sps.edu/podium/default.aspx?t=204&nid=591205
For more on singer/songwriter Taylor Hicks: http://www.taylorhicks.com/