The phrase “Rehab through cycling” is Wounded Warrior Project Soldier Ride in a nutshell. However, after observing, talking with warriors and staff and seeing the process of this endeavor, one learns quickly that this “ride” is much more.
Wounded Warrior Project Soldier Ride came to Seattle this past Thursday. Pete Cataldo on site from the organization’s New York office, explained that forty-five warriors were registered for the ride scheduled for Friday and Saturday. Thursday, he added was dedicated to bike fittings as well as arrival and settling in. The parking lot behind the Oak Harbor Great Western Hotel looked like an assembly line as bike techs tuned and adjusted bikes to fit the needs of the individual riders. Staff Bike Tech, John Koenk was assisted by volunteer techs, Bryan Donlevy and Dane Honeyman.
WWP Soldier Ride Specialist Shana Gibbs pointed out the variety of bicycles displayed about the parking lot, explaining that though most of the bikes were road bikes, Soldier Ride also utilizes hybrids with their wider tires for those with traumatic head injury needing additional balance assistance. Hand cycles, she added were used for riders with lower body injuries. A number of recumbents were being adjusted by the techs as she talked. Koenk, previously with Project Mobility of St. Charles, Illinois, took a moment from his tuning and fitting to discuss the recumbents produced by the UK company, ICE (Inspired Cycle Engineering).
One of those recumbents would be ridden by Alicia Johnson who had been thrown from her vehicle when her unit came under sniper fire while she was serving in Baqubah, Irag. Hampered by an undiagnosed back injury, Johnson sought out Wounded Warrior Project at her husband’s urging. Through WWP, Johnson is receiving the care she desperately needed. Previously, with the military police, Johnson is currently on active duty at Fort Lewis in the Warrior Transition Unit. She arrived at Soldier Ride, recommended her OT, having already completed Cycle the Wave’s Cycle Washington as the only recumbent rider. Next summer she’ll join some of her returning warriors to ride the STP (Seattle to Portland). When asked if she thought she would be where she is today if it weren’t for the Wounded Warrior Project, she responded, “If Wounded Warrior Project hadn’t pushed me, I might have eventually gotten where I am, but it would have taken a lot longer.”
Leslie Mansour, Physical Health and Wellness Director has just recently joined Wounded Warrior Project. Currently living in Seattle, she is indicative of the motivation behind those working for WWP. Raised in a military family with a Masters Degree in Physical Science and Nutrition, Mansour has worked in physical wellness and counseling since finishing her degree. Regarding WWP, Mansour explained that she learned about WWP during a graduate school internship, adding “[what she worked for] all comes together in Wounded Warrior Project.”
Soldier Ride Specialist Shana Gibbs has been with WWP two and a half years. Previously at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, her duties as Events staff with Soldier Ride is primarily logistics including route permits and police coordination. The ride is fully supported and includes a full police escort. Of the ten staff present, all but two will ride. Gibbs will spend much of her time in the sag wagon, one of the U Haul trucks provided by that sponsor. “Soldier Ride is unique,” says Gibbs. We ride in a ‘bubble’. Because this ride is also about building community, “Engagement between warriors,” explained Gibbs, “the ride goes only as fast as the slowest rider.” Throughout the ride experience, these warriors are there for each other.