TAMPA BAY, Fla. (Nov. 16, 2010) --
A team of U.S. Marine Corps Wounded Warriors from around the country clipped in to their bicycle pedals for a Warrior Athlete Reconditioning Program training camp here Nov. 11-14.
During the course of the camp, the Marines cycled more than 100 miles through the coastal Florida countryside with its sprawling orange groves and cattle farms.
“The best thing about cycling camp is that it gets the Marines involved,” said Staff Sgt. Russ Evans, a Wounded Warrior who was injured in April 2009 and is currently on staff at the Wounded Warrior Battalion West detachment at Twentynine Palms, Calif.
Although he had done a good deal of cycling prior to his injury, Russ explained that the cycling camp has given him a focus for his training and rehabilitation.
“A lot of injured Marines think, ‘I’m done. I’m getting out. I’m being medically retired.’ They drop their packs. Some get lazy, start to put on weight. This type of thing is important, because it gets the Marines active again, involved with other Marines like they were in the Fleet. It’s great for esprit de corps.”
Although the WAR Program has been in existence for several years, this is the first time that organized sports camps have been scheduled and open to all wounded, ill and injured Marines, both those on active duty and those who have been medically retired.
Attendees included several veteran cyclists who lost limbs in combat while serving in the Corps during the Vietnam War and came to the camp as mentors and coaches.
“The overall goal here is to give the Marines an opportunity to try a new sport and gain the technical skills to further pursue that sport,” said Maj Susie Stark, a triathlete and seven-time contender in the Military World Championships with Team USA. Currently a mobilized reservist, Stark now oversees the Wounded Warrior Regiment’s WAR Program from the regiment’s headquarters in Quantico, Va.
“We’re able to create a real close-knit family environment,” said Stark. “The Marine leadership and coaches here are focused on teaching and mentoring the Marines so they will have a positive experience, one they will never forget.”
Stark explained that in addition to getting some serious miles under their belts, the Marine cyclists gleaned a host of technical and safety skills designed for both novice and experienced riders.
“They learn the fundamentals of how to do the sport properly, and have a positive experience in the process. Most of our Marines at Wounded Warriors will be medically retired or go back to the (Fleet Marine Forces). Regardless of where they go from here, we want them to take a new skill with them that they can pursue for the rest of their lives.”
Lance Cpl. Kevin Rumley is one such veteran who Stark recruited for cycling camp when she met him at the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., earlier this month.
Seriously wounded in Iraq in 2004, Rumley has struggled to get back in shape since being medically retired from the Corps in 2006.
Now a senior at the University of North Carolina at Asheville studying special education and coaching for the U.S. Special Olympics, Rumley expressed that the hand crank cycle he rides has given him a new lease on life.
“It’s empowering when you have no other option for active sports,” said Rumley. “I grew up snowboarding, skateboarding and playing soccer. This gives me the adrenaline rush I used to get. And the Florida weather and landscape are superb.”
Early each morning the Marines hit their technical and safety clinics, becoming more acquainted with their cycle gears and techniques of group riding. They also focused on cycling safety, running drills that simulated sharp cornering, proper use of breaks and weight transfer. They practiced dodging rocks in the road and reacting to other common situations, such as a car door suddenly opening from a parked vehicle.
“My main challenge so far has been group riding,” said Sgt. Cogen Nelson of Clermont, Fla., who is currently stationed with 4th Force Reconnaissance Battalion in Alameda, Calif.
“I’ve never ridden in a group before. I’ve always trained by myself, always ridden by myself,” said Cogen, a former college football player who was injured by an improvised explosive device blast in Iraq in 2006.
“I’m used to going at my own pace, doing my own thing,” explained Cogen. “It’s been great learning different pace lines and formations. Having to do that, riding as a group, has been interesting. But the best part of this experience is that when you come here, you realize that life is not over just because you are injured; there are other Marines out there going through the same type of thing that you are. I really feel at ease out here.”
This year’s cycling camp is just one of six sports camps which the Wounded Warrior Regiment is hosting at venues throughout the country. Other camps include archery, seated volleyball, track and field, shooting and wheelchair basketball.
“Every camp has its own flavor,” said Stark, “but what they all have in common is that everyone gets to know each other, and we create a family atmosphere. We’re looking at having more frequent camps in the coming years. And to be successful, we only need three things: the best equipment money can buy; the best coaching networking can find; and most importantly, Marines who want to learn. Thanks to the work of a lot of dedicated people, we are getting that here.”