Wounded warriors cycle into Rome

Published Jun 23, 2014 at 4:47pm

A 14-day bicycle trip from Canada to Washington, D.C. by a team of injured veterans from three countries was to arrive in Rome this afternoon for dinner and an overnight stay.

The approximately 40-person contingent includes 16 injured veterans biking with nine able-bodied riders, also accompanied by support staff in some vehicles, according to the World T.E.A.M. Sports organization which is coordinating the event. The veterans making the nearly 800-mile trip, geared to build awareness and provide inspiration, are from the U.S., Canada and Denmark.

The Rome Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2246 was preparing to host dinner for the group, which left Ottawa Friday and came to Watertown Sunday. The travelers were to stay tonight at the Wingate Hotel in Rome, with rooms funded by World T.E.A.M. Sports, and on Tuesday will head for Cooperstown. Arrival in Washington, D.C., is scheduled for July 4.

Hosting dinner for the group is “an honor,” said Willie Fletcher, past commander of Rome VFW and currently VFW 4th District commander for an 8-county area. The Rome site was contacted by World T.E.A.M. Sports which asked about providing some food for the riders, and “we jumped on it,” he said.

VFW veterans plus the mens’ and womens’ auxiliaries are among those assisting in “putting on a nice dinner” including pasta, meatballs and salad, commented Fletcher. They are “doing it for our fellow veterans.....We love doing it,” he remarked, adding that even more importantly it is for disabled veterans.

The first-time trip, called the CanAm Veterans’ Challenge, is geared to recognize sacrifices by veterans, but also to build awareness they have “the same hopes and interests as everyone else” and should not be excluded because of disabilities, said Richard Rhinehart, communications director for World T.E.A.M. Sports. The non-profit organization was formed over 20 years ago and has organized various athletic events for disabled and able-bodied citizens. Having disabled veterans as well as able-bodied persons taking part in the bicycle ride enables it to be a “truly inclusive” event, Rhinehart observed.

Participants include veterans who served in Vietnam, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Among their disabilities are loss of limb, paralysis, post-traumatic stress, brain injuries, and blindness in some cases; two able-bodied riders are serving as pilots for blind veterans using tandem bicycles, according to a World T.E.A.M. Sports announcement.

To tell disabled veterans “you’re not able to ride a bike” is “not right,” said Rhinehart. By participating in a “big event” with “all riding a huge distance” that many able-bodied people would not attempt, it can “catch people’s attention” and perhaps help “create opportunities” for the disabled, he noted.

One of the participants, Army veteran Steve Baskis who lost his sight in Iraq, said “along the way between two nations, I hope to motivate and inspire others to dream and go far,” according to World T.E.A.M. Sports.