Face of America Bicycle Ride Opportunity for Army Veteran to Give Back and to Honor

By Richard Rhinehart

Alexandria, Virginia, January 21, 2014 – Traveling the world through his service with the Army, retired Col. John Sims found the 110-mile, two-day Face of America ride from nonprofit World T.E.A.M. Sports to be a meaningful experience and a great way to begin retirement, even while towing a banjo in a trailer behind his bicycle.

Col. John Sims picks his banjo.

Col. John Sims picks his banjo at a northern Maryland rest stop during the 2013 Face of America ride. Photograph by Kimberly Warpinski.

“I come from a family of cyclists,” said Sims, who retired from the Army in September 2013 following a 30-year career that deployed him to Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Pentagon. “I’ve been riding and a little racing since toe clips and sew-up tires were the rage!” Noting that his wife Theresa is also a cyclist, Sims reports she rode 7,000 miles while he was deployed to Baghdad to inspire fellow spouses to set high goals during deployments. Theresa accompanied John on the 2013 Face of America ride – he notes that “Theresa and I were inspired by the strength of all the riders, but especially our wounded warriors who never quit, something we have vowed to do as well!”

Returning for the 2014 Face of America ride this April 25-27 with his wife, daughter Marcella and boyfriend, Jimmy Cartangena, Sims is captain of the new Team MOAA. Serving on the Career Transition team for the Alexandria-based nonprofit Military Officers Association of America, Sims says that helping military personnel and veterans “is a small way that I can give back to our military and veterans and help them find employment after the military.” Team MOAA has a goal at the Face of America to “increase the number of first-time riders, strengthen ourselves as a team and support, raise awareness and honor our veteran riders, especially our wounded warriors. They’re such an inspiration to us last year that we want to emulate their strength and positive attitude and pass it on to others!”

Banjo on Board sign on trailer.

“Banjo on Board” was the sign on the bike trailer towed by Col. John Sims at the 2013 Face of America ride. Photograph courtesy John Sims.

A year ago, Sims learned about Face of America from colleague Karin Drinkhall in the Army Public Affairs office at the Pentagon. She decided to create a team for members of her office to participate, the Unidentified Army SPOKESpersons. Riding the Pentagon to Gettysburg route, Sims towed his banjo behind him. “I took every chance to play whenever I could,” he recalled. “It’s how I sharpen my ax and clear my mind. I hope others enjoyed it as well, or maybe they just wanted to get riding again for some peace and quiet!”

Coming from a family of musicians where music was a part of everyday life, Sims began picking the banjo at age 15, “because it was the only instrument that my brothers didn’t know how to play!” Forming a family bluegrass band while he was in high school in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, the brothers would sometimes play at local bars. “Managers would often look at me when hiring the band and ask ‘are you sure he’s 21?’ At which my brothers would say, ‘you do want some banjo, right?’ It’s like that in our house with my wife and kids; music, poetry and storytelling are always present when we’re together, and they bring a lot of joy.”

As senior operations officer in the National Military Command Center in the Pentagon the morning of September 11, 2001, Sims was on duty when American Airlines Flight 77 hit the building. “The last 12-plus years were a bit of a blur for me and my family, and Face of America was an opportunity to remember days; most good, but some bad, and be thankful that we are here to ride. Riding together through the battlefields of Gettysburg 150 years after the great battle with present-day warriors and heroes was exhilarating and humbling.”

Riders at the 2013 Face of America ride.

Col. John Sims and his banjo trailer were a welcome sight during the 2013 Face of America ride. Photograph courtesy John Sims.

“Theresa and I took away from last year’s ride the strength, determination and commitment of the wounded warriors that we rode with,” Sims recalled. “At one point in the hills of Pennsylvania, a wounded warrior with a prosthetic leg passed me as I was trudging my banjo buggy up a steep hill. As he went by, he yelled to me to ‘hang tough’ and ‘don’t quit.’ It is that spirit of teamwork, encouragement and mission accomplishment that sustained me and my family for the past 30 years. It’s why I will be a ‘Soldier for Life’ and my family will always be an Army family!”

Presented by Capital One Bank, the 2014 Face of America ride from World T.E.A.M. Sports will include more than 100 veterans with disabilities who will ride bicycles, hand cycles and recumbent bicycles. Sponsors for the ride include American Portfolios, Benson Botsford, Booz Allen Hamilton, General Electric, Penske Truck Rental, Subway of the Bethesda Naval Hospital, Revolution Cycles and Vedder Price. World T.E.A.M. Sports is a national nonprofit that creates inclusive sporting events for disabled and able-bodied athletes.

Col. Gregory Gadson with Team Unidentified SPOKESpersons.

Col. Gregory Gadson (center, with banjo) poses with Team Unidentified Army SPOKESpersons at the historic Loy’s Station Park north of Frederick, Maryland. Photograph courtesy John Sims.