By Richard Rhinehart
Holbrook, New York, June 14, 2013 – Army Staff Sergeant Omar Romney was impressed. As one of 15 participants in the George W. Bush Presidential Center’s Warrior 100K Ride May 23-25, he had the opportunity to not only meet the former president, but also ride with him.
“The President says this is not a race but he sure likes to go fast,” Romney recalled, noting that Bush fondly called him “his wing man.”
Injured during deployment to Iraq in 2003, Romney was sent to Fort Campbell in Kentucky for rehabilitation. Medically retired from the Army owing to his injuries, he accepted a position with the Department of Defense and later with the Department of Veterans Affairs, but felt unfilled and missed his colleagues.
Taking up bicycling, he participated in a Ride 2 Recovery event and traveled to Washington in late April of this year for the Face of America ride from World T.E.A.M. Sports. Unfortunately, medical issues sent him to the hospital instead, where he spent the term of the event missing the 110-mile ride, which included friend Michael Manning as a participant.
Medically retired from the Marine Corps in 2003, Manning completed World T.E.A.M. Sports’ 2012 Sea to Shining Sea cross-country bicycle ride, as well as several Ride 2 Recovery rides. Finding cycling to be therapeutic, the Dixon, Tennessee veteran was invited to ride the Warrior 100K as a guest of Romney. “I will be submitting my application next year,” Manning said of the Presidential Center’s ride.
Held at the Bush ranch at Crawford, Texas, the three day Warrior 100K offered the participating injured veterans rides on the ranches’ extensive trail system with the 66-year-old two-term president. “He is awesome,” said Manning. “He is so down to earth. You wouldn’t think he would be like that.” Noting the enthusiasm Bush has for mountain bicycling, Manning acknowledged the hard-charging nature of the daily rides – “He will kick your butt on a mountain bike, believe me. But that’s his sport that he loves.”
“The president, his family and his staff strive to make each and every one of us comfortable and have a great time,” said Romney of the Warrior 100K. “This is the first year that the President and Ms. Laura Bush opened their home to the riders.”
In addition to the rides, the Presidential Center offered additional activities. “We had dinner at their residence,” Romney recalled. One evening, Texas country singer Pat Green performed for the group. Sponsor Trek Bicycles also had a surprise for the veterans. “A brand new mountain bike!” said Romney.
Trek President John Burke reports that in 2012, his company provided discounts on bikes for the ride’s participating disabled veterans. This year, they gave the participants new Trek Fuel EX 29 bikes.
With new bikes in hand, the participants traveled daily from the host hotel to the Bush ranch. Arriving, the President greeted everyone before setting off for the ride together. After the ride and lunch, the veterans were brought back to the hotel to clean up and prepare for dinner.
Beyond his fitness at mountain bicycling, the President is “also funny and witty,” Romney said. “The best quality he still preserves is the love towards his troops!”
With the 2013 Warrior 100K now complete, Romney is looking forward to participating in future events for injured veterans. He has a strong interest in the next Sea to Shining Sea ride with World T.E.A.M. Sports. “I read the blog from last year and I said to myself I have to do this! I’m really hooked now and World T.E.A.M Sports has great events. I would love to participate in all of them!”
Manning notes that outdoor sporting events for veterans with disabilities are “a great way to be healthy. Having other vets around that have gone through the same things that I have went through” helps him emotionally, as well as mentally.
Intending to apply for the military Paralympic program, Romney is eager to continue cycling. “The more I ride, the stronger I’ll be for future events,” the Clarksville, Tennessee resident said.
“I’ve always loved the outdoors,” said Romney. “When I was younger, I enjoyed scouting and became an Eagle Scout, after that the military and traveling all over.”
Richard Rhinehart serves as Director of Communications for World T.E.A.M. Sports.