By Richard Rhinehart
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, May 2, 2016 – Nearly 600 bicyclists and hand cyclists from across the country triumphantly completed two-day journeys from Arlington, Virginia and Valley Forge, Pennsylvania in historic Gettysburg April 24 as participants of national non-profit World T.E.A.M. Sports’ annual Face of America.
This year’s ride included 136 men and women with disabilities ranging from paralysis to blindness to loss of limb and Post-Traumatic Stress. For many of these athletes, veterans of wars and conflicts from Vietnam to the Gulf War to Iraq and Afghanistan, the event provided an opportunity to meet and ride with other veterans, active-duty military and civilians. Participants came from 36 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Canada, Denmark, the United Kingdom and Australia.
Arriving in Gettysburg early Sunday afternoon, athletes from each route traveled through the city’s historic downtown square where local residents and visitors applauded their effort. Joining together for the ride through solemn Civil War battlefields, the group traveled south to the AllStar Expo Complex at the Eisenhower Hotel. Here, an even larger audience of friends, family, colleagues and local residents beneath a giant American flag provided a warm welcome. Two crossed U.S. Marine Corps 105mm howitzer guns provided a unique finish line for the riders, who had ridden 110 miles from Arlington and 120 miles from Valley Forge.
The sunny skies and warm temperatures Sunday were an improvement from Face of America’s first day, where cyclists on both routes traveled for several hours on slippery roads in rainy weather. Skies cleared by noon, however, bringing sunshine and chilly northern winds that encouraged riders to keep pedaling strong to the day’s finish in Frederick and in Lancaster. On both routes, riders rolled to the finish by mid-afternoon, following early morning starts.
Held annually since 2006, the Face of America brings together disabled and able-bodied athletes. Encouraging a philosophy of “we all ride the same road,” athletes assist and encourage each other during their journey, providing helping hands when needed. Volunteers on bicycles and motorcycles also help ensure safety, watching vehicular traffic and making sure cyclists are on course and aware of any potential dangers. In many communities, counties and townships, local police, sheriff and fire departments also offer welcome assistance.
Face of America honors the participating injured military veterans who sacrificed much in their service to their country during times of war and conflict, but also in times of peace. The ride also recognizes the sacrifices of other military members who lost their lives during service. On the Arlington route, many participants took a moment to do 22 pushups prior to the start, recognizing the 22 veterans who take their lives every day in suicide.
Among the participating riders this year was U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft, who rode the Arlington to Gettysburg route with the Coast Guard Team. On the same route was Navy veteran and comedian PJ Walsh, who provided the keynote talk at Friday evening’s banquet in Arlington. Classic Route riders from Arlington set off on their journey by The American Bombshells, who opened Friday’s banquet with a selection of patriotic and popular music. In Frederick Saturday afternoon, riders arrived to bluegrass music from The Flower Hill String Band. Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Ray Owen of Gettysburg provided musical entertainment during Sunday’s outdoor lunch in Gettysburg.
The inaugural Northern Route from Valley Forge saw only 60 athletes of the nearly 600 riders in Face of America. It is anticipated participation on this route through southern Pennsylvania will grow in coming years, reaching 200 to 400 riders by 2018.
Presented by Capital One Bank, Face of America is supported through sponsorship from American Portfolios Financial Services, Boost Oxygen, Booz Allen Hamilton, Benson Botsford LLC, Brioni, Devens Recycling Center, Freshbikes, Penske Truck Rental, Punch’d Energy, Sila Solutions Group, SUBWAY of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, The Melting Pot of Wilmington DE, Three Wire Systems, Vedder Price, and Veteran Corps of America. Funds raised through Face of America pay for the costs of the event and supports participation of the disabled athletes. Ride proceeds also helps pay for other World T.E.A.M. Sports events, including this August’s Coastal Team Challenge along the Long Island coast.