While in Afghanistan in 2010, a roadside bomb attack took away both of Erin Schaefer’s legs.
But now, just two years later, a bicycle is making him feel whole again.
“It’s a freedom adventure,” said the Everett, Wash., native, loading his three-wheeled, hand-pedaled bike into his truck, April 4, in the parking lot of JBLM’s Warrior Transition Battalion barracks. “I may not be able to run, but it’s another tool to get out.”
And the story is the same for the other wounded soldiers who were there with him, most of whom are still serving on active duty at the WTB awaiting rehabilitation, surgeries and final decisions as to whether their injuries will end their military service.
For all of them, a cycling clinic hosted by the Wounded Warrior Project here, April 4 and 5, served as an opportunity to be active again – to move with purpose and feel free.
“It’s very enjoyable,” said Schaefer, who drove up from Gresham, Ore., 140 miles south of the installation to participate in the clinic. “It gives you a good sweat – a good workout.”
Schaefer served more than 11 years as an Army truck driver before a resupply mission in the Paktika province of Afghanistan changed his life forever.
A semi-truck in Schaefer’s convoy broke down, so the sergeant and his fellow soldiers chained it up on a trailer and kept moving, only to hit an improvised explosive device 550 meters later. The bomb detonated on Schaefer’s side of the vehicle and fractured the bones in his feet beyond repair.
Schaefer, who was serving with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) at the time, would end his service in the military short. But it was during rehabilitation one year ago at Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego that life introduced Schaefer to a new hobby.
“They had weekly [cycling] clinics, so we’d go out around San Diego and get our endurance up,” he said. “I did a half-marathon in San Diego and felt comfortable with that, so I did a full marathon.”
For a year he rode at least once a week, but the clinic on JBLM was his first official ride with a new cycle he had built by a shop in Tualatin, Ore.
Representatives from the Wounded Warrior Project coordinate 12 long-distance rides – called Soldier Rides – and five cycling clinics each year for wounded soldiers and veterans around the world to participate in.
The organization teams up with builders of adaptive bikes to outfit soldiers with demonstration cycles the first day of the clinic and, on the second, leads a ride across the installation.
The goal of the visit is simple and always the same: Give injured troops a way to be active again that fits their needs and a sense of accomplishment at the same time.
For Schaefer, cycling does the trick. It gives him a feeling he has no trouble explaining.
“The wind hits you, the speed of the bike is really easy to handle and it maneuvers pretty well,” he said, his cycle loaded into the bed of his truck. “You enjoy the air and the scenery around you – just being free and enjoying the ride.
“It puts the biggest smile on your face.”
Story by Sgt. Christopher Gaylord
On location for the 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
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