Wounded vets and active-duty servicemembers begin 450-mile bicycle trip
San Jose Mercury News
SAN JOSE, Calif. — While serving two terms as a marine in Iraq, Casey Robinson's brain and shoulder were injured by an exploding mortar round and he became so debilitated by post-traumatic stress after being discharged from the military that his health deteriorated.
"I used to be terrible shape," he recalled. "I was eating badly. You don't care about much. Your concentration is not about your personal well being."
But after a rigorous multiyear cycling regimen, the 32-year-old Santa Cruz veteran was looking exceptionally fit on Sunday. And in Palo Alto he joined 200 others — most of them injured veterans and active-duty members of the military — to take off on the first leg of a seven-day, 450 mile bike ride to Los Angeles.
Organized by the Ride 2 Recovery program, the grueling event is meant to help heal injured service members by pushing them to their physical and mental limits. This was Robinson's fifth such ride. Encouraged to take up cycling while recuperating from his injuries, he said the therapy has been life changing.
"It definitely got me out of my slump," he said smiling at his 32-year-old wife, Rachel, who was making the trip with him for the first time.
Robinson's experience is common, said Andy Duprey, a therapist at the VA's Palo Alto Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center. He said his patients are generally required to ride bikes every weekday because the exercise is vital to restoring their well being, especially those with brain injuries, which can "affect every aspect of life."
Another person who has benefitted from the rides was Ulysses Adams III, a 38-year-old former Marine who lives in Oakland.
"It's been a rough road," he said of his life following his service in Iraq, noting that he injured his back in a helicopter accident and has post-traumatic stress disorder.
Though he recently completed training to operate drones, which he hopes
will land him a job with a defense contractor, Adams said he's had trouble getting medical benefits from the VA. As a result, he wound up homeless for a couple of years and "lost everything I owned." But even during those dark days, he became an avid cyclist with the Ride 2 Recovery program and said he's participated in 14 treks nationwide.
Debora Spano, a Ride 2 Recovery spokeswoman, who knows Adams well, said many injured service members display the same devotion to the cycling events.
"It's just a healing thing for some of these guys," she said. 'They need it. They come back again and again."
Drawn from around the nation — and two from Germany — the participants in Sunday's event gathered at the VA medical center in Palo Alto shortly before 8 a.m. Then, escorted by police and caravans of helpers in vehicles, took off for the more-than 50-mile first leg of the trip, briefly stopping in Los Gatos and San Jose, before ending up in Gilroy.
For the injured vets and active-duty participants, their hotel, food and other expenses during the ride are being paid by United Healthcare and other sponsors, said Spano. One person who helped raise $400 for the trek was 63-year-old Scott Shupe, a helicopter pilot in Vietnam who said he earned two purple hearts for injuries he suffered there.
He also rode the first leg of the event, even though he recently suffered a heart attack.
"It's a tremendous organization," he said of Ride 2 Recovery, which was so important to him he came 600 miles to the event from his home in Provo, Utah. "I think it's important that you get involved."