Articles

Giving Back to Those Who Gave So Much

December 22, 2010

Men and women of courage stand watch for us today in dangerous places across the globe. The world is blessed that, in each generation, Americans of conviction and duty rise to defend our country and liberty's cause.

It is right that we should honor their sacrifice in personal and practical ways, especially at this time of the year. A way to do so is by supporting one of the many wonderful organizations that help wounded warriors and their families.

One such group, Ride 2 Recovery, provides specially constructed bicycles to men and women who have suffered traumatic head wounds or lost limbs—and sometimes hope—in terrible explosions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The brainchild of Californian John Wordin, Ride 2 Recovery draws from the powerful insight that challenging soldiers physically and mentally aids tremendously in their healing. By creating a team atmosphere for rehab, cycling builds confidence, helps restore body and mind, and speeds up recovery.

Since 2008, Ride 2 Recovery has built hundreds of specialty bikes for wounded veterans, including cycles for single, double, triple and quadruple amputees. These gifts have provided life-changing experiences by fostering what the group calls "a sense of normalcy, accomplishment, pride, and camaraderie."

The group's work has been underwritten by major gifts from United Healthcare, the American Legion Family Support Network and USO, as well as by small donations from thousands of Americans. It also depends on the many volunteer civilian cyclists whose participation in the group's rides is vital.

Last month, the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., announced that every veteran who goes through rehabilitation at the new Walter Reed Hospital would be given a bike from Ride 2 Recovery, and the opportunity to participate in its rides. If this effort goes well, Ride 2 Recovery hopes to expand to every other major military rehab facility, including Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, and the Naval Medical Centers in San Diego, Calif., and Portsmouth, Va.

Last year, I had lunch with a group of Ride 2 Recovery cyclists at my home in Washington, D.C. Their stories of service to our country were inspiring. Also powerful was their evident courage and determination to restore their health and set a new course in life. It was deeply moving to hear how their Ride 2 Recovery experiences had given them joy and confidence, widening their vision of what the years ahead held for them.

More recently I spoke with Mr. Wordin at his Calabasas, Calif., base of operations—taking him away, at least briefly, from finishing up bikes for one Marine triple amputee and another who was a quadruple amputee. Both men were eager to get on the open road to exercise their new freedom.

In passing, Mr. Wordin mentioned another bike that Ride 2 Recovery had recently delivered. This one was for Army Staff Sgt. Patrick Zeigler. After returning safely from his second tour in Iraq, Staff Sgt. Zeigler was in the Soldier Readiness Center at Fort Hood on Nov. 5, 2009, when he was shot four times, including once in the head.

During rehab, Sgt. Zeigler was given a bike and began taking part in Ride 2 Recovery. Last month, on the first anniversary of the Fort Hood massacre, he led a memorial 13-mile "run to remember" near the base in Central Texas on his new bike.

Like so many other organizations and programs that help those wounded in combat and the families of those who lost a loved one—including Fisher House and the Navy SEAL Foundation—Ride 2 Recovery is quintessentially American. Government didn't start it. Caring, compassionate people did. It is rooted in the belief that comradeship, a sense of community, and a demanding physical challenge will hasten healing. It seeks to strengthen the spirits of both the individual wounded and his family.

With the approach of Christmas, a day that for Christians the world over signifies the wonders of God's love, we all might lend a hand to those who have been grievously wounded in the service of our country. Those so inclined might visit ride2recovery.com to contribute. And if not to this estimable charity, then to others like it. During this season of peace and joy, it is the least we can do for the courageous souls who don the uniform of our nation.

This article originally appeared on WSJ.com on Wednesday, December 22, 2010.

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