Riders participating in Soldier Ride Across America will relay more than 3,300 miles from New York City to San Diego, California, to mark the 15th anniversaries of Soldier Ride® and Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP). The riders are wounded warriors with experience in local Soldier Rides. The local versions of Soldier Ride are usually multi-day events where warriors are fitted to make the ride comfortable, and they are coached along the way.
Soldier Ride Across America riders do have WWP coaching to support their efforts, but how far they take that coaching depends on them. What does it take to go the distance while managing injuries?
“When I train on my own, I ride 20 to 50 miles a day around the Fort Bragg area – and I like the hills, which gives me the extra training,” said Shonda Jones, Soldier Ride Across America rider from North Carolina. She added, with a laugh, that no one wants to go with her when she invites them because they know she goes long-distance.
“The week-long training camp for Soldier Ride Across America was a challenge because I didn’t know that particular terrain,” Shonda said. “It’s also difficult because you’re riding as a team and you have to learn a different style. When you ride together, you have to get at a certain distance – it was difficult for me.”
After 18 years of not riding any bike, Shonda now rides a recumbent. She injured her back in a parachute accident and had not been active for a while. Since her first Soldier Ride experience, she’s lost 100 pounds through WWP’s Physical Health and Wellness coaching, which has improved her health and her riding.
Shonda’s second ride was in Williamsburg, Virginia, through hills. She recalls feeling pain and struggling to go on. Two WWP coaches talked her through it. “They were my motivators. They gave me a push when I needed a push. They told me I could make it through when I felt like I was going backward.
“After the halfway point, I was determined that I wasn’t going to get off that bike,” Shonda said. “By the time I got through the end of the ride, I could no longer feel the lower half of my body. They took me by ambulance to the hospital. But I finished the race; I made it through that ride, and that was the best feeling in the world. I told them I was never going to give up. Everyone said that I motivated them, but I was only trying to motivate myself.”
For her efforts, Shonda was awarded a recumbent bike that she nicknamed Blue. “Wounded Warrior Project awarded me a bike, and I broke down in tears, and it was the best feeling in the world to be acknowledged.”
Riders went through a week-long training camp to help prepare them for the long Soldier Ride Across America trek.
“It was somewhat challenging, but inspiring at the same time,” explained Jered Holder, a Soldier Ride Across America rider from Texas. “We rode twice a day nearly every day. The training was excellent for a novice rider like me because I lacked the basic skills more experienced riders have. Gaining knowledge on skills and pushing myself beyond the limits of what I had achieved up to that point allowed me to leave the training camp with a sense of accomplishment. I felt confident in my ability to continue improving, and knew that I had given my best effort, no matter what the outcome was.”
Other riders had previous cycling experience that was disrupted by a major event. For Steven Peace, it was a stroke that immobilized the right side of his body.
“I don’t think I could’ve ever guessed that I would be where I am now,” Steven said. “When I was sitting with my dad in the hospital right after I had my stroke, I certainly would have never guessed where I would be 11 years later, but I’m glad that I’ve become the way I am. I loved the Navy; I was going to retire with the Navy, but I was interrupted by the stroke. Through riding – first recumbent and now a trike, then later when I was finally able to compete, and when I competed in the Paralympics – everything stepped up a higher notch.”
Soldier Ride Across America riders have one overarching trait: they are supportive of each other through the entire process.
“During the training camp, we all connected pretty quickly, and I have stayed in touch with most of them since,” Jered said. “We have been communicating by phone, text, and a fitness app that allows us to keep track of our rides and training progress. I've been able to talk with my teammates about riding and equipment tips, and we've all been encouraging and motivating each other to stay dedicated to training for our ride.”
Riders developed their own Facebook page to keep up with each other. They can also see each other’s data and give each other kudos on the Strava app. Teamwork is such an integral part of the ride that some of the riders came up with the hashtag: #NoDiva.
“The off-the-bike part is just as important,” said Adam Faine, WWP Soldier Ride manager. “Someone might be a strong cyclist, but not necessarily a good team player.” On a long ride across the country, teamwork becomes essential.
“We worked for months to prepare them to succeed both mentally and physically. They have a ton of support from Wounded Warrior Project and throughout the country. Everything we’ve done in the past few months is preparing them to succeed,” Adam said.
Follow Soldier Ride Across America and the riders featured in this story at http://wwp.news/SRAA.
Vesta M. Anderson – Public Relations, firstname.lastname@example.org, 904.570.0771
Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers – helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more: https://newsroom.woundedwarriorproject.org.