Warrior athletes gear up during cycling competition

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jette Carr
  • Air Force News Service
Athletes with bikes of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the standard upright bike to the handcycle, took their turn at the starting line April 9, during the Air Force Warrior Games trials at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.

The competitive ill, injured and wounded Airmen and soldiers, raced in seven different heats stretching six to 18 miles on the different bike frames. Though the Air Force trials are the singular method through which the Air Force Wounded Warrior program will select the Airmen to compete in the Warrior Games and Invictus Games, they were joined by 37 of their Army brethren, all striving to increase the level of completion.

The cycling event drew a crowd of athletes and for some it was a new experience. For Daniel Neild, a retired security forces instructor with a traumatic brain injury, the 18 miles he pedaled through were the first he’d ever done in a competitive surrounding.

“I went into it not knowing what to expect,” Neild said. “I just wanted to try it out and see if it was something I would like. It’s harder to get into without previous experience. I didn’t even know how to shift gears or anything -- just had to figure it out on the fly. I did pretty decent at it, supposedly got ninth overall in the upright category, and it’s something I think was interesting and I’d like to do more.”

The opportunity went beyond simply trying something different, it was also about doing it with his fellow wounded warriors, Neild said. Being surrounded by people who have faced similar struggles and have overcome adversity created the perfect environment for him to test out a new sport.

“It’s a brother and sisterhood,” he said. “If this was an event with a bunch of people I didn’t know, who weren’t going through the same things, I would push through, but there wouldn’t be the same connection.

“Going through the course, people were passing me and saying ‘good job’ and vice versa, I passed some people saying ‘Good job. Keep it up! You’re almost there!’ It’s more than just a race. You’re all there for each other. Yes, you’re trying to do the best you can for yourself, but you care about the other people around you and that they finish and do a good job as well.”

Each person in the race faced their own challenges unique to their perspective limitations. The focus on adaptive sports provides members with methods and new ways they could perform each task.

Some limitations individuals can overcome alone, but in other cases, an extra pair of hands, or feet is the answer. During the cycling event a tandem bike flew through the course, sporting two riders. The person in front is the pilot who communicates what’s coming ahead to the individual with a visual impairment pedaling in the back, who is commonly called a stoker.

Returning for a chance to compete in the Warrior Games for a second time were Maj. James Bales, the head coach for the Air Force team, who is the pilot for Wes Glisson, a retired captain and the stoker.

During his military career, Glisson suffered a traumatic brain injury that left half of his vision field impaired. After Bales heard Glisson was interested in being part of the Warrior Games, he called him up and said he’d found the perfect sport for the both of them.

“Any wounded warrior who has a visual impairment can ride in the tandem category,” Bales said. “It’s not easy putting 500 pounds of man and machine on a tire that’s a half an inch wide and steering around corners at about 30 to 35 miles an hour, but today Wes and I had a good time doing it.”

During the 2013 Warrior Games Wes and Bales received a silver medal and since that time they have continued to grow in their sport. The cycling duo have had time to work on the biggest challenge they said comes with the experience of riding tandem, and that is trust.

“In the front and in the back, any shift of weight can send the entire bike to the ground,” Bales said. “There’s a mutual trust between the two people on the bike that no one is going to make any sudden moves. There’s a constant communication about turns, about pedal speed, which is called cadence, about tempo, about when to press and when to pull back, when to recover and when to hammer down. We’re constantly talking throughout the whole race.”

The two have managed to synchronize their movements well enough to have only suffered a singular crash.

“That was the day of the race (the 2013 Warrior Games),” Glisson said. “We were going back and forth, just so we could stop and get up. We turned back and we didn’t quite go fast enough and we just kind of fell. It was really easy and neither one of us was hurt or anything. We just laughed at each other, ‘Alright, that’s our one crash, let’s not do it in the games.’”

Their race in the current Air Force trials was a success, said the duo, leaving both in agreement that their time had improved and they were feeling even stronger than the last time they competed.

“I like it a lot,” said Glisson. “I like riding by myself at home and things like that, but in a competition, it’s not safe for me to ride with a bunch of people, so the only way I can be competitive is in tandem. I’m just really happy that I can do it and be in the Warrior Games, so I’m excited to do it again.”

The Air Force trials end April 11, the names of the athletes moving on to compete in the 2014 Warrior Games and Invictus Games will be announced. For further information about the Air Force Wounded Warrior program and events, visit their website at http://www.woundedwarrior.af.mil.