Soldiers support soldiers - TRI-N-HELP wounded/challenged athletes

Golden rays of sunlight splashed over the Iraqi desert as I turned the corner for my last two-mile lap on my road bike. This stretch of road was the only adequate asphalt for me to ride on in Iraq. I was on day 145 of my 180-day deployment and I found myself right in the middle of what I would soon find to be a great passion of mine…cycling. I had never been much of a rider, but my friend and colleague, Capt. Rich Farley, has ridden bikes for years. As a combat search and rescue team member, he realized the value of not only fitness but personal contact with others while at a deployed location. He often e-mailed me and would frequently discuss how his latest fitness adventure was progressing. Farley had recently started training to compete in triathlons. I had been a runner since college and always wanted to start cycling. Tri-athlons seemed like a challenging, yet fun adventure where I could start riding. Farley had convinced me that riding was the next logical fitness routine I should try and as luck would have it, I met another deployed member who had been cycling for 20 years. I purchased a bike, (believe or not, one can purchase a bicycle in Iraq) and this new friend helped me assemble and tune the bike for optimum performance. Now I was ready to go!

In Iraq I would wake up early to start training mainly because the summers in Iraq are akin to the summers in my hometown of Phoenix…ridiculously hot! Outside exercise is best conducted in the cool desert morning rather than the hot, dry 130-degree afternoon. My one-mile stretch of road ended at the base entry gate. I would frequently see soldiers heading to and from patrol outside the perimeter and often thought of how the unit was affected when one of their brothers in arms was injured or did not return. What kind of impact would that have on their family and community back home? How would they make it after such a devastating event had occurred to them? It was during these morning rides that I realized how fortunate I was to have the ability to start a new sport.

I was scheduled to return from Iraq in mid-August, 2007. Farley was scheduled to race a Sprint Triathlon in early September so we agreed this might be a great reunion opportunity where we could both participate in the triathlon. What a rush! The excitement of completing this event was unexplainable. As a runner I would frequently participate in a 5K or 10K run in support of fund-raising initiatives. The feeling of accomplishment after completing the triathlon towered over running events. Throughout the weekend, Farley and I discussed how unfortunate it was for people who did not have the ability to participate in sporting events and how there are thousands of military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who are injured and are no longer able to participate in an active lifestyle. As we watched a rerun of the 2007 Kona Ironman in preparation for our Sprint Triathlon (400 meter swim, 14 mile bike, 5K run), we saw the remarkable story of U.S. Army Major David Rozelle.

While in Iraq commanding 140 troops of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, Rozelle lost part of his right leg when a land mine exploded under his Humvee. Rozelle’s experiences could be easily compared to your worst nightmare following the incident. He was in excruciating pain, depressed, physically challenged and not knowing what his future held. Tenacity saved his life! Rozelle remembered what it was like to participate in sports and strongly believed in the healing power of sports to help accomplish his new mission…get back into action! He became involved with the Challenged Athletes Foundation and competed in several triathlons. Driven to conquer the Ironman Triathlon World Championship in Kona, he was dedicated to prove that he’s not only “back in action,” but back with a purpose. In Hawaii, he completed the race an hour faster than his qualifying time, finishing in 12:46:26. (As a point of reference, an Ironman Triathlon is a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run.)

After many months of rehabilitation, training and sheer determination, Rozelle returned to active duty and subsequently to the same battlefield where he was originally wounded—the first American soldier to do so in modern times, www.challengedathletes.org/. Rozelle’s story inspired me and Farley to make a difference for athletes with physical challenges all over the world. We co-founded the Triathlon Team TRI-N-HELP as our contribution to this noble cause. Race for a Reason under the guise of the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) was established in 1997. The CAF is a unique organization that recognizes the athletic greatness inherent in all people with physical challenges and supports their athletic endeavors by providing grants for training, competition and equipment needs. The mission of TRI-N-HELP is to raise money to support challenged athletes while increasing awareness of exercise and nutrition. TRI-N-HELP believes fitness increases quality of life. Our goals are to raise $2,500 in the first year, increase awareness of injured/wounded U.S. Military members.

We completed the Desert Classic Duathlon in February (3.5-mile run, 21-mile bike ride and 2.7-mile run). Our teammate Dave Neal (a dental student in Mesa, AZ and former US Air Force Para-recueman), achieved an awesome accomplishment by finishing the Ford Ironman in Tempe, AZ in early April. I recently completed the Mountain Man Olympic Distance Triathlon in Flagstaff, AZ (.93-mile swim, 24.8-mile bike and 6.2-mile run). We will continue to race and raise money to support the Challenged Athletes Foundation because we know the money we raise will support athletes who cannot always get to the starting line: swimmers missing limbs, paraplegics who use hand cycles to bike and runners who race using artificial limbs. High-tech running prosthetics are very expensive and learning to swim without a limb (or limbs) requires special coaching. These challenged athletes want to participate in athletics and feel the rush of competition, just like us. In May of 2008, the Challenged Athletes Foundation distributed more than $1 million in grants to 625 athletes. It is a wonderful thing to witness firsthand the diversity and impact of sports supported by the Challenged Athletes Foundation.

We are confident with our help, challenged athletes will be able to continue to bridge the financial gap and overcome funding obstacles that block their path to athletic achievement. If you would like to donate in support of Team TRI-N-HELP please visit www.trinhelp.org or http://raceforareason.kintera.org/trinhelp

Major Brian Musselman and Captain Rich Farley are both Active Duty Officers serving in the United States Air Force and co-founders of the Triathlon Team TRI-N-HELP. www.trinhelp.org/Trinhelp/Trinhelp.html