RETIRED ARMY STAFF SERGEANT JOE BEIMFOHR RIDES PAST THE WASHINGTON MONUMENT SHORTLY AFTER DEPARTING THE SOUTH LAWN OF THE WHITE HOUSE.PHOTOGRAPHS BY DARRELL PARKS
THE APPLAUSE STARTS almost immediately. A lone cyclist heading in the opposite direction dismounts and starts clapping before our peloton has even ridden 100 yards of our 25-mile course. On every street, people stop what they are doing to cheer on the 43 wounded veterans and about two dozen supporters who are spending this drizzly day pedaling through Annapolis, Maryland.
The sound from the wall of people layered two deep and running more than a quarter-mile long is deafening as we cruise through the United States Naval Academy. As we wind down suburban roads and lonely stretches, the crowd thins at times, but it never disappears. A college kid slams his hands together with tears in his eyes. A weekend gardener drops her shears, grabs the flag hanging from her porch, and waves it furiously. Drivers, annoyed by the delay to their Saturday chores, suddenly recognize who is causing the disruption and begin muttering quiet thank-yous from their windows.
We travel as a tight group, with the hand cyclists with leg amputations low to the ground, surrounded on all sides by tricycles, altered racing bikes, and other contraptions that allow these athletes to pound out the miles at a clip averaging about 13 miles per hour.
But the chance for the public to thank the veterans is only a side effect of the ride.
“We’re here to help each other out, but we’re also training each other as role models,” says retired Marine First Lieutenant Andrew Kinard, 26, who lost both his legs three years ago when an improvised explosive device (IED) hit his patrol while it was performing security operations in western Iraq. “We’re empowering each other to take care of one another.”
Kinard, who underwent more than 60 surgeries during an 18-month stay at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., is on his third ride with Soldier Ride, an initiative of the veterans’ advocacy group the Wounded Warrior Project. Through Soldier Ride, veterans with traumatic injuries participate in multiday bicycle tours across the country. The tours aren’t as much about getting the injured into the sun for a couple of days as they are about getting them out of their beds for the rest of their lives.
While still being treated at the hospital, Kinard landed an internship at the Pentagon, which inspired him to pursue a legal career. After his discharge from the hospital, he completed a year-long congressional fellowship, and this fall he started his first semester at Harvard Law School.