When an incoming rocket round hit Sgt. Johnny Alexander during his service in Vietnam, he lost both of his legs, his back was crushed and he was paralyzed from the neck down.
Now, decades later, he is participating in the Ride 2 Recovery Texas Challenge, and plans to participate in all of the other challenges across the country, as well as the ride that will take place in France in June.
John Wordin, a professional bicyclist, founded Ride 2 Recovery in 2008, as a way to help rehabilitate wounded veterans suffering from physical or post-traumatic stress-related injuries.
“It’s made it a lot better just by being able to be around other people with the same disabilities that I have and being able to do things that I didn’t think I would be able to do,” he said.
Wordin works with each veteran to provide them with a bicycle that will accommodate their injuries, and they get to keep their bikes when they finish the ride, said Ride 2 Recovery spokeswoman Debora Spano.
The Texas Challenge began in San Antonio on March 28 and will finish in the Dallas area on April 2. Other challenges take place in Virginia, Minnesota, New York, California, Florida and France.
The organization works with the military and Veterans Affairs Volunteers Services Offices, with UnitedHealthcare as their presenting sponsor. Through a series of fundraisers, UnitedHealthcare helped to raise money to pay for the veterans’ bikes.
“We’re a company that prides itself on helping people live healthier lives,” said Mark Robinson, UnitedHealthcare’s vice president of marketing. “Our mission really comes to life on something like this.”
Those who participate also build a strong sense of camaraderie that most of them no longer experience when they return from their tours of duty, veterans said. The ride also serves as motivation for the participants to continue working through and around their injuries.
“I think it’s a good avenue to get away, to motivate yourself to get away from focusing on the negatives and focusing on a sport so you can make yourself better by doing it,” said Staff Sgt. Jerry Magallanes, who served in Iraq and suffered from a traumatic brain injury.