Wounded Troops, Supporters Ride Bicycles 110 Miles
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 30, 2007 Nathan Potts was one of about 50 seriously wounded servicemembers who went for a two-day, 110-mile bike ride this weekend, just to show they could.
Country music singer Rockie Lynne rides among the 50 wounded troops and 200 supporters that took part in the two-day, 110-mile Face of America Bike Ride from Gettysburg, Pa., to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Lynne rode the first day's 55 miles to Frederick, Md., where the riders spent the night. Defense Dept. photo by Linda D. Kozaryn
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“The ride proves that I can still do something. I’m not going to waste away to nothing,” Potts, 33, said. “It gets you out here with other people that have similar problems. It gives you the idea: ‘Well shoot, if they can do it, I can do it as well.’”
About 200 supporters also made the 2007 Face of America Bike Ride from Gettysburg, Pa., to the National Naval Medical Center, at Bethesda, Md. World T.E.A.M. Sports, a nonprofit organization, sponsored the two-day event. The acronym stands for The Exceptional Athlete Matters.
Marine Gen. Bob Magnum, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, and his wife, Rose, were among those who came out to show their support for the riders.
“These young men and women saw a challenge and took it on just as if they were completely fit and whole,” Magnum said. “They proved that they can do what able-bodied men and women won’t even attempt, and they did it with a smile.”
World T.E.A.M. Sports teams up people with and without disabilities. The group has created teams and events all over the world, including a bike ride the length of Vietnam with veterans from both sides of the Vietnam War and a 2002 bike ride from Ground Zero in New York to the Pentagon.
“Two years ago, we decided we wanted to do something for the guys who were severely injured in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Chris Carrigg, the group’s executive director. “Everyone we talked to said what we were doing was crazy. They said the guys could never make it. It was bad for their self-esteem if they couldn’t make it.”
Last year’s ride was a success for the 11 wounded troops and 125 supporters who took part, Carrigg said. “They finished the whole 110 miles, a very tough ride,” he said. “There were a lot of hills through Maryland and Pennsylvania. They had a tremendous experience.”
This year, World T.E.A.M. Sports flew in riders from all over the country, Carrigg said. Brooke Army Medical Center, in San Antonio, sent a team, as did the Marine Corps. Servicemembers who’ve been discharged in the past few years also signed up.
“The support system is incredible inside Walter Reed or National Naval,” Carrigg said, “but when they go off on their own, the support system is not as great. What we do is a nice bridge from that nice, safe, supportive cocoon, to the outside world and assimilating back into society successfully.”
All servicemembers, with and without disability, participate in the ride free of charge, he said. Civilians paid $50 and raised $500 from sponsors. American Airlines donated free trips. One of the group’s board members, Erik Weihenmayer, the only blind person to climb Mt. Everest, rode in a tandem sidecar during the ride.
“It becomes a family affair,” Carrigg said. “The bonding is really what happens in a positive way.”
“The message we want to send to these guys is, ‘You’ve lost a leg; you’ve lost an arm; or you’re blinded. You can still be active. You can still be on the team. You can still be part of the fun and the camaraderie,’” Carrigg said.
Potts got that message loud and clear when he took part in last year’s ride.
As an Army combat medic, Potts served with 6th Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, and spent 11 months in Iraq. Thirty days before he was due to come home, he was riding in a Humvee that hit an improvised explosive device. Getting out of the vehicle, Potts triggered a second IED that took off his right leg below the knee.
After spending 10 months at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Potts went home to Konawa, Okla., a small town about 70 miles southeast of Oklahoma City, where he bought a 117-acre farm.
Last year, Potts rode a handcycle in the 2006 Face of America ride. This year, World T.E.A.M. Sports paid for his flight to Gettysburg so he could take part again.
“I’m in a lot worse shape than I was last year,” Potts said halfway through the ride during an overnight stop in Frederick, Md. “I left Walter Reed in November, and I haven’t done much since. They had the facilities for me to work out.
“Back home,” he said, “I watch the cows grow. I live in such a rural community, I have to drive an hour and a half to the city to be able to get any type of facilities for me to use.”
Potts said he has no complaints about the care he received from the military or at the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Oklahoma City, where he said he gets priority care.
“About a month ago, I set up an indoor trainer and rode my bike for about 30 minutes for two weeks, and then I quit,” he said. “I got tired of it. That’s all the training I got for this.”
At the end of the second day, after nearly 14 hours of pedaling and 110 miles, Nathan Potts and his cohorts arrived at the National Naval Medical Center.
“I knew I could do it,” Potts said. “It’s just one of those things. You’ve just got to put your mind to it and do it.”