CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
Combat wounded veterans embarked on one of the world’s longest bicycle races, June 15, that stretches from coast to coast.
Former and current wounded warriors from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center formed the Walter Reed Bethesda Cycling Team for the 32nd annual Race Across America.
The race spans 3,000 miles through 12 states is one the longest running endurance sports events in the world.
According to the Race Across America website, the event is a pinnacle of athletic achievement not only in cycling circles but the greater sporting community as well.
“Race Across America is opportunity for me to be an example and show that there is nothing combat wounded veterans can’t do,” said Cpl. Justin Gaertner who lost both his legs in to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in November 2010. “Despite what life throws at us nothing can hold back a Marine or soldier’s courage and will power to achieve greatness.”
Only three of the eight men in the team are riding conventional bicycles, the other five are riding hand peddled cycles due to their injuries.
“I am racing in RAAM to show that no matter what disability you may be facing, you can overcome your adversity,” said retired Sgt. Michael Frazier, who lost both his legs in the explosion of an improvised explosive device while on deployment in Afghanistan in May 2011. “I want to be an example, to show that anyone who came before me or comes after me can follow. I want them to know that they are still capable, despite their injuries.”
Some of the riders expressed that an unwavering dedication to setting an example and a positive mental attitude about life is important for overcoming obstacles.
“We’re going to do it, and we’re going to do it just as good as any other able-bodied person,” said Frazier. “That’s what I want. Other people should know that even though we are missing legs, missing arms, or our brains are not right that we are still regular human beings, and we can accomplish anything put in front of us.”
Many of the participants mentioned that they enjoy the sport because it is challenging and allows them to be with people they can relate to.
“We relate, same issues, same kind of troubles dealing with military injuries, combat, and family,” said Sgt. 1st Class Keoki Smythe, Warrior Transition Battalion, Company B, Fort Carson, Colorado. “It’s very good for us, we can relate and understand. When I see them I don’t see someone in a wheel chair, instead it’s, ‘Oh that’s my buddy from this ride or that ride.'”