America Supports You: Wounded Soldiers Make Cross-Country Trek
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
BALTIMORE, July 12, 2005 A 4,200-mile bike ride would be challenging for anyone. For someone missing a limb, it would seem impossible. But Army veterans Heath Calhoun and Ryan Kelly are proving just how possible it is.
Staff Sgt. Heath Calhoun, left, leads the Soldier Ride 2005 group into downtown Baltimore on July 11. The ride, which started in Los Angeles on May 21 and will end in Montauk, N.Y., July 18, includes wounded soldiers, sailors and Marines, their families, and active-duty volunteers. Participants in Soldier Ride are raising money for the nonprofit Wounded Warrior Project. Photo by Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Calhoun, a double leg amputee, and Kelly, who lost his right leg, are both participating in Soldier Ride 2005, a cross-country bike trip to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit organization that assists servicemembers who were injured in Iraq, Afghanistan and other hot spots around the world. Calhoun and Kelly are leading the ride, along with Chris Carney, a bartender from East Hampton, N.Y., who founded Soldier Ride last year.
The Soldier Ride team rolled into Baltimore July 11 for a pit stop at the Baltimore Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Next stop is Philadelphia and then on to Montauk, N.Y., at the far tip of Long Island, where their trip will end July 18. The ride started in Los Angeles May 21.
Carney, who has never served in the military, decided to create Soldier Ride after participating in a local benefit for a wounded soldier in New York, he said. That benefit didn't raise as much money as had been hoped, so he looked for something bigger, he said.
He remembered a benefit bike ride he had done for another cause and decided to apply the same principle. Sponsored by friends, neighbors and local business owners, Carney rode the 4,200 miles from Montauk to San Diego. In the end, he had raised more than $2 million, he said.
Calhoun and Kelly joined Carney for one weekend of his ride last year and decided to do the entire ride this year, Carney said.
"We started talking about a second one almost instantly," he said.
Calhoun and Kelly were both wounded in Iraq. Calhoun served as a squad leader with the Army's 3rd Battalion, 327th Infantry, from the 101st Airborne Division. A rocket-propelled grenade hit his truck on Nov. 7, 2003, causing such severe damage that both of his legs had to be amputated above the knee. He now rides a special handcycle that he pedals with his arms.
Kelly was a reservist with the 490th Civil Affairs Battalion out of Abilene, Texas. On July 14, 2003, his convoy was ambushed with an improvised explosive device. The attack destroyed his right leg below the knee.
Calhoun and Kelly both recovered at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, about 40 miles from here, where they were helped by the Wounded Warrior Project. After spending 13 months in the hospital and seeing the value of the program, Kelly said, he felt it was his duty to spread the word.
"I benefited from it a lot, and I wanted to do something to repay that and make sure it was available," he said.
Other wounded soldiers, sailors and Marines have joined the ride for portions of the distance, some biking through their home state. This is an important rehabilitative activity for them, Carney said, as it gives them confidence and a chance to be active.
"For a lot of them, it's the first physical activity they've done since being wounded," he said. "They realize that they can still go out and do stuff."
Soldiers like Calhoun and Kelly are invaluable counselors to these recently wounded servicemembers, because they can relate to them, Carney said.
"They're twice as effective as anyone else would be doing the same job," he said. "It makes them the perfect counselors for those coming in because they've been through it; they've walked the road, and they know."
Kelly said the American public seems to have lost sight of the fact that many servicemembers are coming home with serious, life-altering injuries, and he would like this trip to raise awareness and support for them. The Wounded Warrior Project is a place where people can give and see results, he said.
"It's a way that people can actually give a donation and know that it's going to help out soldiers," he said.
The support from the public during their trip so far has been incredible, Kelly said.
"It's pretty tremendous how people come out and support us," he said. "Getting the word out is a big part of this ride, and it's nice to see that coming to fruition when you see the guys roll into a city and there's tons of people there."
The riders definitely received a big show of support at the VA medical center here. Staff and patients lined the breezeway, waving flags and cheering as the team rode in. Dennis Smith, director of the VA Maryland healthcare system, presented the team with a certificate and a $425 check for the Wounded Warrior Project. It was especially meaningful for the Baltimore VA to have the team stop in, Smith said, because Kelly and Calhoun received part of their rehabilitation here.
After having refreshments and visiting with some patients at the medical center, the team members headed out for the rest of their journey. There are still many miles to go, but Carney said the physical difficulties of the trip pale in comparison to the cause they are riding for.
"When I'm riding with guys who have no legs or are missing an arm, it's impossible for me to complain," he said. "I've got to suck it up a little bit."