News: Wounded, injured and ill Soldiers pedal 164 miles
Story by Stacy Rzepka
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – More than 40 wounded, injured and ill soldiers and their supporters from Fort Campbell and Fort Knox, Ky. Warrior Transition Battalions (WTBs) and their supporters participated in the first Bluegrass Rendezvous Bike Ride Sept. 24 and 25.
The therapeutic and challenging ride between the two installations was designed to help strengthen the bonds between the soldiers while giving them a challenge they could meet and overcome with the help of their fellow riders.
As riders completed the last leg of the 164-mile trip, members of Fort Campbell and the surrounding communities came out to cheer them along. Groups of people stood along Trenton Road, Tiny Town Road, Fort Campbell Boulevard and throughout the installation to wave and cheer. Staff members from the 101st Airborne Division Headquarters building also stood along Indiana Avenue, saluting and encouraging the riders.
Staff Sgt. John Quarles, who has deployed multiple times, said that he felt emotional when he saw people who don’t even know him cheering along the route. Quarles said that it reminded him of coming home from a deployment. “It felt really good to see everyone out to support us,” he said.
WTB staff and soldiers, as well as the 101st Airborne Division Band, welcomed the returning riders with a finish-line celebration. Every rider received a medal, a goodie bag from Morale, Welfare and Recreation, pizza provided by the USO and the knowledge that they overcame a major challenge.
Sgt. Bryan Flanery, who was recognized as Fort Campbell’s most valuable rider, said that successfully completing the ride felt awesome. “It’s a feeling of accomplishment that has been missing for a long time,” Flanery said.
Healing power of biking
“Cycling can be adapted for anyone, regardless of physical ability. That's what makes this program so special,” said WTB physical therapist Rebecca Murphy, one of the event coordinators.
The WTB Adaptive Reconditioning Program offers upright, recumbent and hand cycles to ensure each Soldier can make adaptations as needed and still enjoy the sport.
One of the main goals in the WTB Adaptive Reconditioning Program is to expose Soldiers to a variety of sports and activities that can be adapted to their current abilities.
“We hope that at least one will strike their fancy and that they will stick with it once they leave here,” said Murphy.
Spc. Jose Vernimmen embodies that goal. Vernimmen, who rode a recumbent bicycle to accommodate a back injury, said that he can no longer run and began cycling a couple of months ago because he needed to find an exercise that he could perform.
“Physically, I feel a lot better because I bike every day, said Vernimmen. “When you feel better physically, you start to feel better mentally as well. You know, active body, active mind.”
Bicycle riding offers many benefits to Soldiers as they work through their healing process, Murphy explained. Aside from the obvious health benefits of physical activity, Murphy said Soldiers can experience positive social interaction with other riders as well as relieve stress.
“It is like meditation on two wheels,” she said, explaining how cycling offers more than just physical benefits. “You are not thinking about the bills you have to pay, the direction your life is going, your relationship, your worries - all you can think about is pedaling. Your mind clears and it is beautiful.”
How it began
The idea for the bike ride and partnership was born in Fort Carson, Colo. at the Warrior Games, an Olympic-style event for wounded, injured and ill military and veterans to compete.
Sgt. 1st Class Landon Ranker, the Soldier in charge of the WTB Adaptive Reconditioning Program and a former WTB Soldier himself, hatched the idea with the Fort Knox WTB commander when they met and started talking about their shared passion for cycling.
“We consider Fort Knox our sister WTU (Warrior Transition Unit),” Ranker said, “and we decided to do something like a bike ride together.”
After plenty of talk and coordination, the Bluegrass Rendezvous Bike Ride became a reality. The name is a nod to the fact that both battalions lie in the heart of bluegrass music country. In fact, the course was dubbed Route Scruggs after the late Earl Scruggs, the “best bluegrass banjo picker” according to event coordinators at Fort Campbell.
“Not only did he define an entire instrument within a uniquely American genre of music, but he welcomed, encouraged and supported other musicians who aspired to his musicianship,” said Murphy. The same holds true for the experienced riders with the Adaptive Reconditioning Program as they encouraged newer riders along Route Scruggs.
“Regardless of rank or medical condition, we all worked together,” said Vernimmen. “The pace allowed us to talk and joke. It wasn’t like a race, it was more about bonding and camaraderie.”
Vernimmen added that he would encourage any Soldier to try cycling. “This is an activity that can be adapted for just about anyone, as long as they are willing to try,” he said.