Wounded Warriors Hit 'Road 2 Recovery'

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 20, 2008 - Neither rainy May skies nor unseasonably cool temperatures stopped cyclists from beginning the 480-mile "Road 2 Recovery" ride from Walter Reed Army Medical Center here to Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C., today.

Through bicycling, the Road 2 Recovery organization assists veterans with mental and physical rehabilitation.

About 20 cyclists, including six wounded warriors from Walter Reed and three from Fort Bragg, N.C., gathered at the Mologne House on the Walter Reed campus for well-wishes before heading south.

The journey is more than just the physical challenge it represents for many of the recovering soldiers, Army Col. Patricia D. Horoho, commander of Walter Reed Health Care System, said.

"This event really is symbolic of the road that our warriors in transition take from the point of injury on the battlefield through the entire journey of healing to the triumph of full recovery," she told those gathered to see the cyclists off. "This is truly a testament of their courage and commitment to take control of their lives as they continue the healing journey."

America is doing its best to bolster that courage, said Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense for internal communication and public liaison.

"We hope you feel embraced by the American people, who every day are trying to find ways to communicate one message to you," the deputy assistant secretary. "That message is: America does support you."

The riders are sure to feel that embrace as they make their way south. Bicyclists are expected to join them at different stages of the ride, including some stars in the cycling community.

"We're very excited about the ride," said John Wordin, founder of Road 2 Recovery. "It's going to be an interesting challenge [for the veterans]."

Wordin said the idea for the program originated in September, when he was invited to do a ride with veterans from the Palo Alto, Calif., Veterans Affairs facility who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. The facility had started a cycling program as a regular part of the patients' mental rehabilitation, he said.

"By participating in cycling, it helps speed up their recovery process," Wordin said. "There have been a lot of studies done on physical activity, and there are two things it does.

"One is it decreases depression," he said. "The second thing is, by doing a physical activity it helps develop your muscles."

Army 1st Lt. Ferris Butler, soon to be promoted to captain, is walking proof of that.

"I sat in a wheelchair for 15 months, so getting strength back in my legs to the point where I was just able to stand under my own weight was important," he said. "Riding a bike is no impact, and it's just an amazing way ... to get in shape. It just really expedited my therapy."

Butler was injured in a bomb blast on Dec. 21, 2006, in Iraq's Sunni Triangle. He lost his left leg below the knee after an attempt to save it failed. He also lost half of his right foot to the explosion.

He said that, not only is biking a great way to shape up physically, but also just getting out of the hospital for awhile is a big lift.

"It's just so good to get out of the hospital, just leave this place for a week or even a day," Butler said. "I don't know if I have the expectations of making the 480 miles, but we'll see. I've got goals for each day, and I'm just going to take it one day at a time.

"This is just a stepping stone for me," he added.

Though he only recently received his three-wheeled bike and didn't get a lot of road training in, Army Spc. Justin Clark said he's planning on finishing the whole ride.

"If I don't, I'll be kind of frustrated with myself," he said in halting speech. "But if I make it one mile, it's more than I would have done by not doing it at all."

Clark suffered a traumatic brain and spinal cord injury when he was electrocuted and fell south of Baghdad in 2004. He can't remember exactly where the accident happened. His fiancee, Audrey Proctor, has one reason for making the ride with Clark: "Because he wanted me to do it," she said. "That was pretty much it."

She said she's confident the challenge is manageable for both of them, she added.

If the 80-mile-a-day average turns out to be too strenuous for any of the riders, two "sag wagons" will be available for cyclists who need to ride for a bit. Cyclists can continue cycling when they're ready.

The Road 2 Recovery ride concludes in Charlotte on May 25 with a few special events, which include a celebratory lap around the Lowe's Motor Speedway. The riders will be welcomed by cheering fans gathered for the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race that will be run later that evening.

A tour of the garages will be followed by the opportunity to take in the race from catbird seats in the one of the corporate suites.

Road 2 Recovery is a supporter of America Supports You, a Defense Department program connecting citizens and companies with servicemembers and their families serving at home and abroad.

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Wounded Warriors Hit 'Road 2 Recovery' [ ]