BY RICHARD RHINEHART
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, May 1, 2013 – The arrival of late afternoon showers failed to dampen the successful conclusion to World T.E.A.M. Sports’ 2013 Face of America ride April 28 at the Seamus Garrahy Farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
With gusty winds blowing across the historic Civil War battlefields, the 500 participants of the Arlington to Gettysburg ride finished their outdoor lunches of steak and beer, lingered over the plentiful dessert buffet in conversation, packed their cycling gear and boarded buses for their trip home. By time rain arrived at the farm northwest of the hallowed fields where Confederate and Union Forces battled 150 years ago, volunteers were at work clearing tables and removing trash.
Scheduled annually since 2007 by the non-profit World T.E.A.M. Sports, the Face of America ride attracted more than 100 disabled veterans from the United States and Canada. With another 400 riders, the veterans rode hand cycles, recumbent bicycles and standard bicycles the 110 miles from the Pentagon through Frederick to Gettysburg.
Another group of riders rode one or two single day metric century routes – about 62 miles each day – from the Wyndham & Courtyard at Gateway Gettysburg Hotel. This smaller team of riders, which also included veterans with disabilities on hand cycles, rendezvoused with the larger group Sunday afternoon to ride the last mile to the Seamus Garrahy Farm. Along Black Horse Tavern Road, an estimated 300 to 500 family, friends and Gettysburg residents had gathered, lining the road like a stage of the Tour de France.
Proudly leading the way to the ride finish was Vietnam veteran Bill Czyzewski, who lost his lower left leg to a sniper’s bullet during the dangerous Fish Hook operation in 1970. The former member of the Army’s Black Horse Regiment earned a Purple Heart for his service, but when he returned to the United States, he found a nation indifferent at best to his commitment and sacrifice. Following his triumphant conclusion to the Face of America ride, Czyzewski was emotional about the warm welcome he and his fellow veterans received. Although Czyzewski rode across North America in the summer of 2012 as a member of World T.E.A.M. Sports’ Sea to Shining Sea team, the exceptional welcome at Gettysburg provided him and his fellow veterans with the “parade they never received” for their service.
Seeking out other Vietnam era disabled veterans for future sporting events, Czyzewski expressed concern with the return to America by many Afghanistan and Iraq veterans who sustained injuries during their service. These individuals must also be welcomed home and provided opportunities to make something of their lives. Acknowledging that he spent many years doing nothing but “lying on his couch” and feeling sorry for himself, Czyzewski said that sporting events like the Face of America offer an opportunity to change lives in a positive way, to offer direction and meaning, as well as connect with other veterans and end isolation. He pledged to continue to seek out and find veterans who deserve the opportunity to return to society.
Van Brinson, the Chief Operations Officer for World T.E.A.M. Sports, is a retired Marine who has participated or managed several Face of America rides. He notes that on Sunday afternoon following the ride in Arlington, several riders from participating teams gathered for one last round in the hotel lounge, celebrating new friendships and the successful completion of the journey. Many of these individuals were strangers when the group first gathered two days before at the hotel for the kick-off dinner, but grew together by sharing the challenges of the ride.
World T.E.A.M. Sports creates inclusive sporting events that bring together diverse groups of disabled and able-bodied individuals to learn from each other and create expanding networks of support and trust. For the last 20 years, the organization has developed challenges ranging from the Face of America to climbs of Kilimanjaro and Nepal’s Lobuche to sea kayaking along the Pacific Coast to multi-sport, multi-team events like the Adventure TEAM Challenge in western Colorado. Many of the individuals who participate in an event return for others, and join with other organized outdoor activities. More encouraging, participating individuals increasingly take on the mantle of leadership and found their own organizations to create additional events for individuals with disabilities.
“I tell everyone there is no ‘dis’ in my ability, it’s just different” said retired USAF Sgt Kerry Conway from Utah, who was shot down in Afghanistan and rode a hand cycle at the Face of America.
Richard Rhinehart serves as Director of Communications for World T.E.A.M. Sports.