For most of us, the challenges of bicycling lead to growth as cyclists: climbing that long and steep grade to bag a peak, staying balanced and pedaling on through a technical section of trail, taking a deep breath and merging into traffic on a busy road. But for some, bicycling takes them beyond growth and into transformation.
For the men and women who serve in armed forces, being strong and capable–physically, mentally and emotionally–to meet the challenges of battle is core to not only their job, but to their identity. To be wounded and permanently lose capabilities is a life crisis for anyone. For warriors, the wounds can run much deeper.
Through cycling, Ride 2 Recovery “makes a difference in the lives of healing heroes by providing life changing experiences that can help speed up the recovery and rehabilitation process.” A few weeks ago, one of their challenge rides came through my area. I rolled out early to see them off on their 450 mile ride from the Bay Area to Los Angeles County. It was awe-inspiring to see these wounded warriors on their amazing adaptive bicycles.
Ride 2 Recovery designs and builds custom adaptive bikes that it make it possible for almost any injured veteran to participate in the program, including para- and quadriplegics and multiple-limb amputees. The bikes allow them to move under their own power to challenge themselves physically. The ride challenge program allows them to set individual goals while working in a group, and also helps them accept help when needed.
Out of respect for their privacy, I didn’t talk to any of the injured veterans about their challenges: why they decided to do it, what were the biggest hurdles, how it’s changed them so far, what’s next for them. But we don’t need to know the details, do we? Even as outsiders we can imagine it was physically and emotionally hard every step of the way, and that the rewards are boundless, and that the experience is transformative.
I cannot imagine that these wounded warriors see themselves in quite the same way after learning to ride a bike again as a double above-the-knee amputee or after being blinded–or both.
I was honored to have the opportunity to see them gather for the start of their 7-day challenge, and was humbled as I struggled to catch the group after it sped down Foothill Expressway. After seven miles I finally caught them, only to silently bid them adieu and wish them farewell on their long journey south.
What were your biggest challenges in bicycling? Has bicycling fundamentally changed your understanding of self, your beliefs, your life? Has bicycling been transformative for you?