More than 30 Fort Campbell Warrior Transition Battalion soldiers and staff rode 200-miles in two days during an annual endurance ride called the Bluegrass Rendezvous, Sept. 27 and 28.
Participation in the ride is a recovery milestone for some wounded, ill and injured soldiers who come to the WTB for at least six months of complex medical management and rehabilitative care. This year’s ride included 33 additional miles than years past and left riders soaked on day one.
“The first day was a bit rainy for about 80 of the 100 miles — sheer wind and rain. Then on Friday we did another 100 miles and it was a perfect day to ride,” said Lt. Col. Shawn Butler, WTB commander and Bluegrass participant. The Bluegrass Rendezvous took cyclists down back roads of the installation and through the communities of LaFayette, Gracey, Hopkinsville, Pembroke, Trenton and Oak Grove, and through Clarksville.
On day two, as participants rode the final stretch, they were welcomed with cheers, words of encouragement and car-horn beeps from well-wishers along installation roads. A cheer group of more than 100 WTB soldiers, staff, family members and supporters were at the finish line to welcome riders back to the battalion. Brig. Gen. Todd Royar, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) Senior Mission Commander, who was out early on day one to see the riders off, was also at the finish line to welcome the soldiers back and congratulate them on their accomplishment.
“Thank you for a great example of inspiration. You set a goal out there and achieved it. It really means a lot to all of us,” said the Royar. The general shook hands and presented each rider with a Bluegrass Rendezvous medal as a token to signify their accomplishment.
“The ride is a way to show these soldiers who are wounded, ill and injured that you can still be physically active and do things and challenge yourself to accomplish things you never thought you could do before. We had two cancer survivors on this ride this year. Both of them are online to return to duty. So, it’s showing you that the purpose for this organization is for them to heal medically and then we’re going to get them strong and conditioned and ready to go back in the fight and do the soldier tasks they are assigned,” said Butler.
One of those soldiers is Spc. Weston Stephens who came to the battalion for treatment of stage 4 cancer. Stephens underwent multiple surgeries after his cancer spread to 12 different locations in his body. Now cancer free, Stephens has used cycling and other adaptive reconditioning activities at the battalion to regain his strength.
“So far it’s gotten my endurance back up. It’s gotten my lungs where they need to be. Fighting cancer was not an easy battle and this has really pushed me to my extremes, pushed myself and pushed my body,” said Stephens during a rest stop in LaFayette.
All soldiers at the battalion participate in at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week in support of their rehabilitation. Soldiers are given a list of traditional and adaptive activities to choose from based on their individual medical condition. The WTB has a team of physical and occupational therapists who tailor the treatment of each soldier based on what the physical therapists says they can do with the illness, injuries or wounds that they have.
Bluegrass participant, Lt. Todd Kuzma, WTB adaptive reconditioning program officer in charge, joined his fellow soldiers to complete the ride. “We were training for about four and a half months before doing this. We started with small 20-mile rides and we gradually increased to where we were doing 60-mile rides on our long days and on our regular days, we were hitting 40 miles.”
In addition to the benefits of cardiovascular health, building strength, reducing body fat, and improving circulation, cycling is a popular option at the battalion because it is adaptable for various conditions. In addition to upright cycles, the battalion has recumbent cycles and hand cycles to accommodate many the different needs of its soldiers.
The recumbent cycle has given Bluegrass participant Staff Sgt. Michael Hale, assigned to the WTB, a new method to enjoy physical activity and the outdoors. Hale had both his hips crushed and suffered broken bones during a deployment to Iraq. Recovering from multiple surgeries,
Hale said cycling is beneficial and enjoyable for him now that he can no longer run.
“Now I can still continue to do a very cardio intense work out, so it’s kind of a fun thing, keeping me fit and I enjoy it,” said Hale. After completing the two-day ride, Hale said he felt a great sense of accomplishment. “I’m a little tired but also exhilarated because I was able to complete a milestone that a lot of people in their life (don’t) do. It just lets me know that there is nothing I can’t do. If I don’t want to do it and put my mind to it, I can do it,” said Hale.
In the end, WTB battalion Command Sgt. Major Kenneth Pelham said he was very proud of the riders and his battalion, which helped make this year’s ride possible.
“Thirty-two people rode, but it was a battalion effort. Some of the other (WTB soldiers) helped because they couldn’t ride and then all the cadre had a part of it. We worked for this for months, coordinating with local police departments and the USO. It’s a group effort, and if it’s not a group effort it wouldn’t work.”