By Richard Rhinehart
Holbrook, New York, May 12, 2017 – For the nearly 600 riders participating in national non-profit World T.E.A.M. Sports’ April 29-30 Face of America bicycle and hand cycle ride to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the exceptional camaraderie between adaptive military veterans and able-bodied athletes was their primary reason for riding.
Under cloudy skies April 30, the riders rolled to a stop at the Eisenhower Hotel’s AllStar Expo Complex south of Gettysburg’s historic Civil War battlefields. Tired, but ecstatic at successfully finishing their two days of cycling, the riders mingled together, unwilling to leave behind the fellowship and support they had grown to appreciate. Beginning their cycling early Saturday morning at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia and at George Washington’s historic winter camps at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, the athletes from across North America spent nearly 15 hours and more than 100 miles cycling alongside each other before reaching Gettysburg.
For many participating civilians, Face of America offered an ideal occasion to meet adaptive athletes and military veterans. Having an opportunity to ride and to talk was life-changing. “It was one of the best experiences I have ever had,” reported a civilian who completed his first Face of America. “Saw every one helping each other. It’s a ride where everyone wins, where no one is left behind.”
Although the determination and dedication of the adaptive athletes was inspirational, these injured veterans from all service branches found participation was helpful to their own well-being. “Meeting and talking to other disabled veterans who love to cycle,” was important to one adaptive athlete. “Cycling is a big part of helping them stay happy and sane.”
Another adaptive veteran noted that riding “with my brothers and sisters” was a strong reason for returning for his second Face of America. Veterans who were injured in active service often left behind friends and colleagues as they went to recovery and rehabilitation. In the process, they lose their sense of connection and their purpose. Meeting other veterans who have experienced similar life circumstances can help with the healing process, and often creates new networks of support.
“We at World T.E.A.M. Sports are deeply humbled by the response to the 2017 Face of America,” said CEO and President Van Brinson. “I am very aware that there are numerous other bike rides and non-profits out there and the fact that people continue to show up for our event, to me, speaks volumes. For me, personally, it’s a special moment each and every year when I see the lights of the lead vehicle round the corner at the Eisenhower … it’s emotional. All the work that goes into this ride is immediately worth it when I see the riders coming in together.”
Face of America was first run 17 years ago by World T.E.A.M. Sports as a cross-country bicycle ride from each coast, with two teams of athletes meeting beneath the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. After serving two years in 2002 and 2003 as the official ride of remembrance for victims of the September 11 attacks upon America, the non-profit organization redirected the ride to Gettysburg. The new route brought together military veterans, active-duty military and civilians, including adaptive athletes who ride hand cycles and recumbent bikes, as well as standard upright bicycles.
Through joining together of these various groups of athletes, greater understanding is the result. Veterans learned about the American people they voluntarily chose to protect, while civilians learned about the men and women who serve their country, sometimes sacrificing much in the line of duty.
That’s important, particularly with much of society fragmenting into smaller groups in today’s world. Said one veteran, “on this ride, I come to know that there are people out there that do care and appreciate what we’ve done.”
One event volunteer that has assisted for five years was clear as to the appeal of the ride. Spending time with “these amazing disabled vets,” the volunteer noted that “life has not been nice to them and yet they are proud of their service and are working to come back from many types of disabilities. They humble me.”
World T.E.A.M. Sports’ 2017 Face of America was presented by Capital One Bank and supported through sponsorship and partnerships from several leading companies including American Portfolios Financial Services, Benson Botsford LLC, Bike123.com, Booz Allen Hamilton, Brioni, CYCLEBAR Columbia Pike, Dell EMC, Devens Recycling, Dunkin’ Donuts, FreshBikes, ForeScout, KT Tape, Penske Truck Rental, Pershing, Rescue 22, Sila, Strive, SUBWAY of the Walter Reed National Military Center, Three Wire Systems, Tom’s Creek United Methodist Church, TORRE Consulting Services, Vedder Price and Veteran Corps of America.
Explore our Face of America digital photographic galleries.