America Supports You: Wounded Warrior Cyclists Mark Holiday
By Elaine Wilson
Special to American Forces Press Service
SAN ANTONIO, Jul. 5, 2006 As the city celebrated July 4 with colorful parades and family barbecues, a small group of cyclists rode into Fort Sam Houston marking an independence day of their own.
Steve Nardizzi (far right), executive director of Soldier Ride, introduces a few of the wounded warriors participating in the Soldier Ride National Tour 2006 at Fort Sam Houston's Fourth of July ceremony. The cyclists stopped by after a nine-day trip from Dallas to help the San Antonio community pay tribute to the nation. Photo by Elaine Wilson
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The cyclists, most of them wounded in the war on terrorism, helped San Antonio celebrate the national holiday by participating in the "Salute to the Union" after a hot and hilly nine-day trip from Dallas.
"It's an amazing thing to see someone who's served their country, who's suffered an injury, say 'I'm still moving forward with my life,'" said Steven Nardizzi, executive director of Soldier Ride, as he acknowledged the cyclists and their accomplishments during the post ceremony.
Nardizzi led a group of wounded warriors and supporters on the Dallas-to-San Antonio segment of the Soldier Ride National Tour 2006, a cross-country cycling event to raise money and awareness for wounded servicemembers. Most cyclists participate in segments of the ride and a few, like Nardizzi, tough out the entire route.
By the tour's end, more than 40 wounded warriors will have ridden in the nearly 4,400-mile trek. The rigorous journey started May 6 in Montauk, N.Y., and will end July 29 in San Diego.
"We know public interest can wane, but we want to remind people that servicemembers are still out there sacrificing and getting injured. We want to tell their stories and honor their sacrifices," Nardizzi said.
"Many of them led very active lives before their injuries, and they still want to do that," he said. "We're not only bringing light to their sacrifices, but we're aiding in their rehabilitation."
Nardizzi is one of the founding members of Soldier Ride, an organization started in 2004 by a group of people in East Hampton, N.Y., who wanted to pay a debt of gratitude to the armed forces. In 2005, Soldier Ride member Chris Carney biked across America with Staff Sgt. Ryan Kelly, a single-leg amputee, and Staff. Sgt. Heath Calhoun, a double-leg amputee. They were joined in segments of the ride by 25 wounded servicemembers.
"I met a lieutenant who used to be an avid runner before his injuries," Nardizzi said. "He told me he didn't think he could cycle but finished the segment to D.C. He can't run anymore, but he can still cycle, still live an active lifestyle."
Master Sgt. Tom Carpenter, a double amputee, was an inpatient at Brooke Army Medical Center here just a year ago. He is now an avid cyclist.
"I saw it as an opportunity to get out of the hospital and do something physically demanding," he said. "It increases your confidence."
Although an experienced cyclist, Nardizzi said he has the highest admiration for people like Carpenter, who must use a hand cycle, a three-wheeled cycle that is pedaled with the hands, to ride.
"I've tried it, and it's difficult," he said. "Our arms aren't meant to propel our bodies. But he gutted it out."
Carpenter rode in the Dallas-to-San Antonio segment of the tour said he and hopes to complete the ride across Texas next year.
"I've seen soldiers transform because of the Soldier Ride, because they are part of something," Carpenter's wife, Connie, said. "It's great to be an American, to be able to have the resources to heal and prove that you can do anything. I feel very proud to be an American today."
(Elaine Wilson is assigned to the public information office at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.)