BY RICHARD RHINEHART
Frederick, Maryland, April 27, 2013 – Under bright spring sunshine, nearly 500 riders from 39 states set forth from the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia this morning on bicycles, hand cycles and recumbent bicycles. Eight hours later, these individuals arrived in Frederick, Maryland as a cohesive and supportive team of friends looking forward to the next day’s challenge.
The Face of America ride from World T.E.A.M. Sports annually brings together veterans with disabilities with active duty and retired military, first responders and supportive members of the public. Each April, the group rides a two-day, 110-mile route from Arlington to the historic battlefields of Gettysburg. Created in 2000 as a cross-country ride of two teams of veterans who met in St. Louis, the Holbrook, New York-based non-profit organization redirected Face of America in 2007 to honor and acknowledge the substantial sacrifices veterans with disabilities take in serving their country.
More than 100 disabled veterans traveled to Arlington from across the continent to participate in the 2013 ride, many for the first time. Participating veterans include the seven-member Soldier On team from Canada, riding in their initial Face of America. They are joined by teams from the Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force. Walter Reed National Military Medical Center also organized a team of injured veterans.
Festivities began Friday evening at the annual Face of America banquet, hosted at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Crystal City. Following a selection of patriotic songs performed by the Children’s Chorus of Maryland, Gregory Gadson, an active duty Army Colonel with severe military-related injuries from his service in Iraq, provided an inspiring talk. He compelled participants to not forget military veterans, particularly since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will soon conclude. Many veterans like him will see their lives deeply affected by service events for the rest of their lives. A past participant of the Face of America ride, COL Gadson said he was looking forward to spending the weekend on his hand cycle.
In the light of early morning, the riders gathered at the Pentagon to begin their ride. While veterans like Virginian John Warren have ridden in several Face of America rides, others were participating in their first. Rear Admiral Nora W. Tyson, a Vice Director of the Joint Staff, offered brief words of encouragement to the riders before their 7:30 a.m. departure. After a safety reminder from the lead ride marshal, the riders were off.
Peddling through Fort Myer and the hallowed ground of Arlington National Cemetery, the riders continued north along the shady banks of the Potomac River to western Maryland. A slow pace of ten to 15 miles per hour kept the riders together, and several well-stocked rest stops at area open spaces manned by volunteers provided plenty of food and drink.
Subway of the Bethesda Naval Hospital catered a well-received outdoor lunch at Beallsville, after which the riders pedaled the remaining 20 miles to Frederick in short order. Arriving in this western Maryland city, the riders stored their bicycles and headed to nearby lodging for the evening.
Though past Face of America rides were disrupted by showers and inclement weather, riders found this year’s sunny, warm weather to be a delightful change. Providing an opportunity to ride together without concern about changing road conditions, the good weather allowed these riders to engage in conversation and learn more about each other.
Without exception, lives were changed through participation in this ride today.
The ride concludes on Sunday, April 28 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Richard Rhinehart serves as Director of Communications for World T.E.A.M. Sports.