Walter Reed cyclists hit the road for Coca-Cola 600

First stretch on the road to North Carolina.


By JOE GROMELSKI | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 20, 2008

Since he was wounded by an IED blast in Iraq’s Sunni Triangle in December 2006, U.S. Army 1st Lt. Ferris Butler has had to make some tough calls.

After undergoing 52 operations on his left leg, "I decided none of that was working," he said. The decision to amputate was "the best thing I ever did."

Butler is among a group of cyclists who left from Walter Reed Army Medical Center on Tuesday on the five-day Road 2 Recovery ride, a 480-mile journey to Charlotte, N.C., and the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. And how it goes will, he hopes, enable him to make one more tough choice: Whether to keep his troublesome right leg, which is already missing half of the foot.

"What this bike ride and biking in general is allowing me to do," he said, "is to get as strong as I can so I’m able to make an educated decision off of it."

Another participant in the America Supports You-sponsored ride is Spec. Justin Clark, who suffered brain and spinal injuries in a mortar attack in Iraq and a later fall and electrical shock while working on a generator. Riding a three-wheeled bike of the sort seen in marathons, he’s accompanied by his fiancée, Audrey Proctor. He only recently received the bike, and his only practice has been around the Walter Reed campus, but his goal is clear.

"I’m going to try to make the whole trip," he said. "Granted, due to physical limitations, realistically I probably won’t pedal the whole way. But I will pedal as far as I can go."

Butler also has his goals set. "I’d like to work up from 20 miles a day to 30 miles to potentially 40 miles a day later in the week. We’ll see how my butt holds up."

The ride is part of an effort to incorporate cycling into the recovery program for wounded servicemembers, according to Maj. Jason Bryan, president of the Road 2 Recovery Cycling Club. "the intent is to get these guys, once they get released from active duty and get back into their communities, plugged into a team of people and continue to ride." Bryan is no stranger to two-wheeled transport, having cycled almost 5,000 miles around bases while in Iraq.

Leading the ride to the speedway is John Wordin, a professional cyclist who served in the Marine Corps. Before the group left, Wordin addressed the riders about the realities of riding as a group.

"The biggest danger you’re going to face on this ride is each other," he said. "Because the first guy’s going to (call attention to) a rock, the next guy’s going to move over, and the next guy’s not going to be paying attention and you’re going to overlap wheels and crash."

Three-time Olympic cyclist Wayne Stetina elaborated:

"The biggest problem is caused by people overreacting ... Don’t move over any more than you have to avoid something or the person next to you. Because if you overreact, then the person behind has an even more severe reaction and it just gets a chain reaction going back."

With those and other words of advice, including the need to watch out for Clark at his different level than the others, the cyclists were ready for the road.

Participants in the Road 2 Recovery ride get the green flag at Walter Reed's Mologne House.