Park City • Army Lt. Col. Henry Riley Jr. was preparing for his second deployment to Iraq when illness stopped him in his tracks. Riley was diagnosed with advanced esophageal cancer, which triggered a different kind of war where the weapons, including chemotherapy and radiotherapy, took a devastating toll on his health.
"I couldn't ride my bike three miles six months ago. I had a lot of medical issues that were related to my treatment," Riley said about his path toward rehabilitation. He is now involved in a cycling event spanning over 3,000 miles that involves wounded veterans from various wars.
Sea to Shining Sea, hosted by the not-for-profit organization World T.E.A.M. Sports, began in San Francisco on Memorial Day, and will conclude July 28 in Virginia Beach, Va. On Thursday the group rode into Park City for a one-night stay. Their host, St. Regis Deer Valley, offered the group complimentary meals and accommodations.
During a reception at the hotel Thursday evening, Riley said the ride already has been a life-changing experience.
"This is a great country to travel across on a bicycle. The growth of this group, in terms of being a team, as well as my own personal growth both physically and mentally, has been my favorite part."
Riley and a platoon of other wounded veterans are participating in the cross-country tour. With representation from every branch of the military, as well as conflicts from Vietnam to present-day Iraq, each has a different disability ranging from blindness to missing limbs.
Fellow rider and Army veteran Bill Czyzewski was with the 11th Armored Cavalry in Vietnam when he was hit in his left leg. The injury ultimately resulted in amputation seven years later.
"As far as these bike rides go, they have opened so many doors for me. I've seen things I never thought I'd ever see. World T.E.A.M. Sports is a fantastic organization," said Czyzewski. "Anything you want or need, they are right there for you. If you have a medical problem they'll take care of it."
Supported by a dedicated staff and a host of sponsors, Sea to Shining Sea hopes to raise awareness about disabled veterans across the country.
"What we would like to do is honor our veterans and service members of the country. And as we go across the country all of the fallen those who sacrifice their lives," said Kim Warpinski, senior event manager.
Another goal is to emphasize that disabilities can be a source of inspiration, not defeat, Warpinski said.
"We want to show the public what people with disabilities can achieve. The people with these disabilities end up inspiring able-bodied individuals to participate in life and go out and accomplish things in life."
Follow the group's ride
O Follow the veterans' cycling trek from San Francisco to Virginia Beach, Va., at http://www.s2ssbikeride.org