Wounded veterans bike through Park City
June 15, 2012
Army Lieutenant Colonel, Henry Riley Jr., was preparing for his second deployment to Iraq when illness stopped him in his tracks. Riley was diagnosed with advanced esophageal cancer which triggered a different kind of war where the weapons, including chemotherapy and radiotherapy, that took a devastating toll on his health.
"I couldn’t ride my bike three miles, six months ago. I had a lot of medical issues that were related to my treatment," said Riley about his path toward rehabilitation. He is now involved in a cycling event spanning over 3,000 miles which involves wounded veterans from various different wars.
Sea to Shining Sea, hosted by the not-for-profit organization World T.E.A.M Sports, began in San Francisco on Memorial Day, and will conclude in Virginia Beach, Virginia July 28. On Thursday the group rode into Park City for a one-night stay. Their host, St. Regis Deer Valley offered the group complimentary meals and accommodations.
During a reception at hotel Thursday evening, Riley said the ride has already been a life-changing experience.
"This is a great country to travel across on a bicycle. The growth of this group, in terms of being a team, as well as my own personal growth both physically and mentally, has been my favorite part."
Riley and a platoon of other wounded veterans are participating in the cross-country tour. With representation from every branch of the military, as well as conflicts from Vietnam to present day Iraq, each one has a different disability ranging from blindness to missing limbs.
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Fellow rider and Army veteran, Bill Czyzewski, was with the 11th armored Calvary in Vietnam when was hit in his left leg. The injury ultimately resulted an amputation seven years later.
"As far as these bike rides go, they have opened so many doors for me. I’ve seen things I never thought I’d ever see. World T.E.A.M Sports is a fantastic organization," said Czyzewski. "Anything you want or need, they are right there for you. If you have a medical problem they’ll take care of it."
Supported by a dedicated staff and a host of sponsors, Sea to Shining Sea hope to raise awareness about disabled veterans across the country.
"What we would like to do is honor our veterans and services members of the country. And as we go across the country all of the fallen – those who sacrifice their lives," said Senior Event Manager, Kim Warpinski.
Another goal is to emphasize that disabilities can be a source of inspiration, not defeat says Warpinski.
"We want to show the public what people with disabilities can achieve. The people with these disabilities end up inspiring able-body individuals to participate in life and go out and accomplish things in life."
The Sea to Shining Sea cross country ride is supported by various corporate sponsorships. Heber City State Farm agent, Bonita Vanderkooi, says his company tries to find local events and organizations that they are passionate about.
"We really wrapped our arms around Sea to Shining Sea a year and a half a go. We actually put two people fulltime on to work with this organization and coordinate the event," said Vanderkooi. "I’m just really proud to be a part of State Farm and proud to be a part of an organization such as this."
Vanderkooi says people can follow the riders on the event’s website: http://www.s2ssbikeride.org
"I would encourage people to follow them on their website, and if they know anybody to share it on Facebook to get the word out, to get people to encourage these veterans. Because this is a fabulous group of people."