By Jennifer Barnes
The ride is a 2-day, 110 mile, cycling event organized by World Team Sports to honor disabled military veterans and first responders. It is an all-inclusive event in which both able-bodied and disabled riders cycle together from the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia to the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Funds raised are used to cover the costs of disabled participants in this event, and to support other national events run by World Team Sports.
The Blue Hen Veterans and Friends Cycling Team was formed by a group of student veterans currently attending the University of Delaware. Although comprised mostly of UD undergraduates, graduate students, and alumni, the team also has staff/faculty members from Delaware Technical Community College and Wilmington University. The diverse team includes military veterans and retirees from the Marines, Army, and Air Force, along with an ROTC cadet, and a few civilians. The team currently has 17 members, including 5 who are registered as disabled. Their goal is to raise $15,000.
The idea to participate in this event came about last fall when the UD students were looking for a way to connect with other military veterans across campus and the state, as well as with the local community. They wanted to be involved in something that was meaningful, challenging, and inclusive. The Face of America ride resonated with them because it seemed to have all these elements. Further, it seemed like an event that would resonate with the community. Just a quick look across the university campus reveals that Delaware is a bicycling state.
The event is particularly meaningful to the students because it is designed to empower disabled military veterans and first responders by engaging them in athletic endeavor. Coming from the very active world of the military, the student veterans understand the importance of movement and recognize that the loss of it can have a profoundly negative affect on people, physically, cognitively, and emotionally. As an adaptive sports event, the Face of America ride provides the opportunity, and support needed, for those who have been injured, to get back out there in whatever way, shape, or form they can.
Cycling is a wonderful sport in this regard, because it lends itself so well to inclusion, one in which people of many ages and abilities can participate together. This was important to the students, not only because they wanted to support disabled veterans and first responders, but also because they wanted to ensure that anyone wishing to participate on the team with them would be able to do so. Even though only five of the team’s riders are registered as disabled, most of its military members incurred some form of physical injury while serving, whether it was to the knees, hip, back, or shoulders. Cycling is forgiving in this way because it is a relatively low impact sport when compared to things like running. Further, equipment can be modified to accommodate a variety of disabilities. For example, recumbent bicycles can be used by people with back and/or shoulder injuries; tandem cycles can be used by individuals with balance or vision impairments; and hand cycles can be used by those who have lost or paralyzed lower limbs.
That said however, about half of the team had very little cycling experience. Many didn’t even own a bike, or if they did, it was in need of repair. From the start, the students realized participating in this event would be challenging in many ways. Not only would they need to prepare themselves for the physical demand of 110 miles of cycling, but they would also have to address the logistical challenges of equipment, fundraising, transportation, and lodging. In order to succeed they would have to work together and reach out to the community.
The first community organization they reached out to was the White Clay Bike Club. This local bicycling club responded immediately and enthusiastically. They volunteered to provide a class on the basics of cycling, to include an overview of the proper equipment and clothing needed, bicycle inspection tips, safety instruction, and a review of the rules of the road. They followed this up with a hands-on bicycle skills and drills training session. The club was also instrumental in connecting one of the team’s disabled members with a local recumbent rider who volunteered the use of some of his own equipment to get the rider ready.
As the team continued to form and round up bikes (some borrowed), word spread that they needed help with bicycle maintenance. The Newark Bike Project (NBP), a not-for-profit community based bicycle repair shop, offered to assist them. Several NBP mechanics volunteered their time and expertise, conducting a private, closed session workshop for the team, during which they provided hands on instruction in roadside repairs (including how to fix a flat tire), and assistance with some much needed bicycle tune-ups. They worked one-on-one with the cyclists, fixing and adjusting brakes, gears, chains, and a myriad of other things that needed attention. They replaced tires, seats, reflectors, and anything else that was below serviceability. By the end of the evening the team’s bikes were in tip-top condition.
Other local organizations have also stepped forward to help. CrossFit Diamond State offered the use of their facility to all the team members for training, from now until the event, at no cost. Additionally, VFW Post 475 is providing some financial assistance towards the team’s lodging expenses in Maryland – the midpoint of the 2-day trip. Overall, the outpouring of support from the community has been both extraordinary and heartwarming. The Blue Hen Veterans are extremely appreciative of this and hope there will be opportunities for them to return the favor by volunteering their time and support within the community.
With only a month to go, the team is very excited about the event. They still have a few challenges left to tackle but they remain undeterred. They are hoping for an end to the cold weather so they can get in more road time. Additionally, they would like to obtain team jerseys identifying them as the Blue Hens of Delaware. But most importantly they hope to reach their Face of America fundraising goal of $15,000. If you would like to assist them in their efforts you can make a tax-deductible contribution to World Team Sports via the Blue Hen Veterans and Friends Cycling Team donation page.
To find out more about the Face of America Event click here.
Article written by Jennifer Barnes, Blue Hen Veterans and Friends Team Captain, University of Delaware graduate student, US Army Veteran. Contact info: firstname.lastname@example.org