About 68 wounded, ill and injured Soldiers and their supporters rode bicycles, tandem bikes and recumbent tricycles Oct. 1 and 2 during “Where Heroes Rendezvous,” a bike ride that covered a cumulative 101 miles of countryside in and around Fort Campbell.
“Where Heroes Rendezvous” is an annual therapeutic and challenging bike ride for Soldiers assigned to Fort Campbell’s Soldier Recovery Unit as well as SRU cadre and veterans that builds camaraderie and resilience.
For some, the ride was a milestone to mark months of training with the SRU. For others, it was a chance to prove they could do it. For a few, the finish line marked the beginning of a new chapter in their lives as they work to return to regular duties in the Army or transition to civilian life.
“It gives Soldiers a chance to set some tough, but achievable goals,” said Lt. Col. Heath Holt, SRU battalion commander.
Soldiers start the program in the spring and train all summer before the fall ride, Holt said. Bikes can be adapted to accommodate multiple disabilities, including those with vision impairments by pairing them with a partner on a tandem bike.
Sergeant Isaiah Harris, assigned to the SRU, had a hip replacement in August 2019 and is awaiting a medical discharge.
Harris and others from the SRU spent the summer training for the bike ride.
The ride was a good outlet for Harris since his back injury prevents him from running, he said. He was excited he could ride 101 miles on a recumbent bike.
“I’ve never been a big bike rider, but I can no longer run so this is a great alternative,” Harris said. “I am resilient, that sums it up right there. It’s been a tough year as far as COVID-19 and everything that is going on. Mentally, we struggle a lot. Physically, I’ve struggled a lot and this I can’t even explain it. I learned a lot about myself with this ride.”
This year’s ride was adapted to ensure COVID-19 safety precautions were followed to mitigate the spread of the virus. Participants were broken into two smaller groups separated by about 30 minutes to allow for social distancing,
The ride is a chance for wounded, ill and injured Soldiers and Fort Campbell to connect with supporters from the community. Holt said a handful of Soldiers who went through the program returned to ride and support current participants.
The SRU is part of the Army Recovery Care Program that oversees the evaluation and treatment of wounded, ill and injured Soldiers who require six months or more of rehabilitative care.
Holt said finishing the ride was an accomplishment the Soldiers can be proud of.
“I think for a lot of them today was the furthest they’ve ever ridden on a bike,” he said. “We help push and pull each other over the finish line.”
The ride began and ended both days at the Soldier Recovery Unit.
First Sergeant Troy Isom, SRU, said he crossed the finish line with two things – “jelly legs” and a sense of accomplishment. He suffered an injury in Iraq in December and cannot run, so the recumbent bike, which is low to the ground and allows riders to sit back, was a good fit, he said.
“It doesn’t phase my hip, my back, my knees,” Isom said. “I didn’t know I could ride 101 miles.”
Isom put 1,200 miles on his bike over the summer training for the ride. He said that’s probably more miles than he’s ridden on a bicycle in his entire life
For some riders, it was a chance to honor Soldiers who couldn’t make the ride.
Holt had the names of seven SRU Soldiers who died of cancer this year written on his race bib and taped to his bike.
“Anytime I look down, that’s what I see,” Holt said.
Shawn Lowney, a U.S. Army retiree, participated in the Rendezvous ride for the third time.
“It’s nice being back around people who understand me,” Lowney said. “I’ve been there and done that.”
Jose Valerio is a U.S. Army retiree and disabled veteran. He served at Fort Campbell 2005-2012 and came back as a volunteer to help other Soldiers train for the ride.
“I ride with a lot of these guys on a weekly basis with the SRU,” Valerio said. “Obviously, it helped me out. It’s therapeutically.”
Major Al Gordon, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), rode both days to show support.
“They are part of this lifelong Family and team,” Gordon said. “I just get the honor of riding with these guys who are wounded and hearing their stories and how their fight continues after their injury and it inspires me to keep fighting for these guys.”