America Supports You: 'Soldier Ride' Takes Off From Pentagon
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 14, 2006 A group of wounded and active-duty servicemembers, retirees and family members launched the second leg of their cross-country bike trek from the Pentagon parking lot today.
Steve Nardizzi, executive director of Soldier Ride, explains the brakes on the handcycle to Elmer Dinglasan, a Navy corpsman participating in the second leg of Soldier Ride 2006, from Washington, D.C., to Camp Lejeune N.C. This leg of the ride took off from the Pentagon parking lot May 14. Photo by Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The group is part of Soldier Ride 2006, an effort to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit organization that assists servicemembers injured in Iraq, Afghanistan and other hot spots around the world. This leg of the ride goes from here to Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Three amputees are taking part in this segment of the trip, and three more will join the ride before they reach Camp Lejeune, said Steve Nardizzi, executive director of Soldier Ride. This ride helps the amputees with their rehabilitation by getting them out and active and teaching them how to deal with life challenges, like checking into hotels and eating in restaurants, he said.
"You cannot be out with these guys and see them, see their progress from beginning to end, and not know that you're doing something worthwhile," Nardizzi said.
One of the amputees in the group, Army Staff Sgt. Yegor Bondarenko, said that even though he's not an experienced cyclist, he has committed himself to doing as much of the ride as he can. Bondarenko, who lost part of his right arm in Iraq in May 2005, started with the ride in Montauk, N.Y., and will try to make it all the way to Camp Pendleton, Calif., where the ride ends.
"It's a good achievement for myself, but it's also inspiration for everybody else," Bondarenko said. "I don't want people to sit at home and feel sorry for themselves."
Bondarenko's wife, Lena, is riding with him and has committed to complete as much of the ride as she can, too. "It's awesome; it brings us closer together as a family," Bondarenko said.
Elmer Dinglasan, a Navy corpsman recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center from an injury received in January, is also riding for the first time. Dinglasan is a double leg amputee, so he's riding a handcycle, which he said is challenging because his rehabilitation has focused mostly on his legs. However, Dinglasan said he is committed to making it to Camp Lejeune to visit the Marine unit he was attached to in Iraq.
"I just want to go down there again and see my guys," he said. "I'm lucky I didn't have any injuries to my upper body, so I don't have any excuses."
Not everyone can make the entire cross-country bike trip, Nardizzi said, but getting wounded servicemembers out for at least part of the trip helps them get active and motivates them to continue in their rehabilitation. Soldier Ride also sponsors smaller, regional rides, where the riders do other recreation activities, like water sports, he said.
Completing even part of a Soldier Ride gives a confidence boost to wounded servicemembers, said Marine Staff Sgt. John Szczepanowski, the Marine Corps liaison at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. This ride is Szczepanowski's third event with Soldier Ride, and he said he sees the difference it makes to amputees who participate.
"It reassures them and builds their confidence, so they can then go on and accomplish other goals," he said. "It gives them that possibility of what's next, instead of what's wrong."
The number of wounded servicemembers will continue to grow as the war goes on, but as long as Americans remember and support them, they will recover and be able to go on with their lives, Nardizzi said.
"We want to make sure that America continues to remember them and the sacrifices they're making as this war rolls on, and as time rolls on," he said. "We're certainly going to be there for them, and I know that the rest of the country will too."