Declan O'Kelly, Contibutor
October / November 2005
It’s a long way from California to New York, especially on a bicycle, but what makes this 4200 mile ride even more remarkable is that it was undertaken by two soldiers both of whom lost limbs in Iraq.
Ryan Kelly, 24, and Heath Calhoun, 26, are part of a group called Soldier Ride, which raises money for wounded veterans. They were joined on the ride by the group’s co-founder, Chris Carney, 35, a bartender from Long Island, who was inspired to found Soldier Ride after visiting the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, where returning wounded soldiers undergo rehabilitation.
Carney, who completed the cycle on his own last year, said, “it was tougher because I was alone. This year it was good to have someone to talk to. The motivation the soldiers have is amazing. Heath drove himself across the Rockies with his arms. He went from trailing up to having no problems keeping up.”
The three started out in Marina Del Ray “Mother’s Beach” in Los Angeles on May 31 and finished in Montauk, New York on July 18. Calhoun, who had both his legs amputated after a rocket-propelled grenade hit a truck in which he was traveling, powered across the country in a three-wheeled hand cycle using his arms to pedal, while Kelly, who had his lower leg blown off in an ambush near Baghdad, wore a prosthetic leg to complete the trip.
So far the group has raised over $500,000 for Wounded Warrior Project. They also campaigned tirelessly to Congress for assistance for wounded soldiers and their families. Their efforts paid off recently with the passing of the Wounded Soldier Bill — a $2,500 to $100,000 disability insurance policy for soldiers and other service members on active duty.
The funds raised by the second Soldier Ride have helped the Wounded Warrior Project with their backpack program, an initiative to give all returning wounded soldiers comfort items and toiletries and help finance family visits.
As Calhoun told Fox News recently, the importance of this backpack cannot be underestimated, “I know myself when I came back to the States I was wearing a towel, so to be able to get a nice, clean t-shirt and a pair of shorts was something special.”
Note: As we go to press we received the news that The Walter Reed Medical Center will close as part of the Army’s restructuring of its bases ♦