By Richard Rhinehart
Arlington, Virginia, January 30, 2015 – World T.E.A.M. Sports’ April 24-26 110-mile, two-day Face of America bicycle and hand cycle ride from the Pentagon to the historic battlefields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is more than a simple ride. For participating military veterans with disabilities ranging from blindness to loss of limb to Post-Traumatic Stress, the cooperative teamwork and support provided through the ride creates an active support network that encourages ongoing physical fitness and a positive attitude.
When the anticipated 600 athletes from across the United States and Canada begin their ride, disabled and able-bodied athletes will join together for a challenging and emotionally satisfying adventure through three states. Gaining friendships and support during their journey, many participants will remain in contact long after the ride has concluded. By creating informal networks through social media, the riders can offer support in times of difficulties, encourage active sporting activities, and join together at other events presented by an expanding universe of non-profit organizations.
One growing non-profit, North Carolina’s Bridge II Sports, provides weekly sporting programs and events for more than 1,000 annual participants. Serving athletes of all ages, Bridge II Sports has created activity hubs throughout the state offering local sports events to a greater number of athletes.
Founded by U.S. National Para-kayak team member Ashley Thomas, the Durham-based organization helps persons with disabilities revitalize self-esteem and gain meaning to their lives. “I have seen lives change by the healing power of hope, which, like a wave, extends to others,” said Thomas, who lives with chronic pain brought by the developmental congenital disorder spina bifida.
Hosting the annual Valor Games in North Carolina for injured veterans and active-duty military, Bridge II Sports finds their sporting events help athletes gain success. “A man by the name of Davian Robinson is a blind cyclist who competed in the 2014 USA Cycling Para-cycling Road National Championships,” explained the organization’s Program Coordinator, Elly Johnson. Noting that Robinson began bicycling through their program, the Raleigh para-cyclist “is now fourth in the nation” and competes regularly in national championship road and track events.
In Colorado, blind adventurer and retired World T.E.A.M. Sports board member Eric Weihenmayer helped found non-profit No Barriers USA. Through the No Barriers Warriors program, a number of outdoor expeditions and climbs of high peaks and wilderness adventures are annually offered for veterans with disabilities. The organization recently released their 2015 event schedule, and is actively seeking applicants for several sporting events, including river rafting through the Grand Canyon, rock climbing near Rocky Mountain National Park, and climbing peaks in Colorado’s high country.
President George W. Bush annually hosts the Warrior 100K mountain bike ride for American military personnel who have been wounded or injured since the September 11, 2001 attacks on America. Hosted at the President’s Prairie Chapel Ranch in Crawford, Texas, the ride brings together a select group of veterans to ride and spend time together with their former Commander-in-Chief. Applications for the April 30-May 2, 2015 100 kilometer ride by experienced mountain bikers are now being accepted by the George W. Bush Institute’s Military Service Initiative.
“The application will close on March 6 and our selection committee will meet the following week,” explained Brooke Hughes, the Military Service Initiative’s Program Coordinator. “We usually select about 15 – 20 warriors and announce the riders a couple weeks after we confirm their participation.”
Many other non-profit organizations provide ongoing opportunities for athletes with disabilities to participate in sports. The R4 Alliance, a consortium of non-profit organizations serving the military family formed in 2012, provides injured veterans with a wide range of sports offering rehabilitation and reintegration. Members include nationally-known organizations such as the Sierra Club, Ride 2 Recovery, Blaze Sports America, Higher Ground, Project Healing Waters and World T.E.A.M. Sports.
It’s clear that sports are beneficial to the health and well-being of individuals with disabilities. Events like the Face of America are growing in popularity, as athletes learn of available opportunities. The2015 ride reached its permitted limit for athletes with disabilities in only two weeks, nearly three months earlier than in previous years. It currently is one of the largest non-competitive rides in the greater Washington region.
The 2015 Face of America Ride is supported through sponsorship support from Capital One Bank, American Portfolios Financial Services, Booz Allen Hamilton, Benson Botsford LLC, Deven’s Recycling, DuPont Fabros Technology, Fidelity & Guaranty Life, FootStomp.com, Freshbikes, General Electric, Lerch, Early & Brewer, Penske Truck Rental, Sila Solutions Group, Subway of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Three Wire Systems LLC, U.S. Silica, Vedder Price and Veterans Corps of America.