Warrior Ride brings soldiers to Lowcountry

Emmanuel Melendez of Puerto Rico (right) who was severely injured and lost the lower half of his right leg when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Iraq, propels his bike with his arms in the first part of The Warrior Ride through James Island County Park last Thursday.

An ordinary biker has the advantage of using his weight when he pedals with his feet.

You can’t put your weight into it when you’re leaning back and pedaling with your hands.

Ask Emmanuel Melendez, who rode a bicycle powered by his arms nearly 100 miles last week.

“It’s a good workout,” said Melendez, an Iraq war veteran who lost most of his right leg when he was severely injured by a roadside bomb in 2004.

Melendez, who lives in Puerto Rico, was one of about two dozen men and women from all over the country who came to the Lowcountry last week for a Warrior Ride. They rode more than 30 miles each day Thursday-Saturday.

The first day they rode from James Island County Park to Folly Beach. The second day was from the Holiday Inn Express in Moncks Corner to Old Santee Canal State Park. The third day was a community ride through Beaufort, Port Royal and the Marine base on Parris Island.

The group included a woman from Fort Belvoir in Virginia who said she is dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. Many of the men rode special bicycles to accommodate their injuries.

Brian Barker, who is in the warrior transition unit at Fort Bragg, N.C., rode a recumbent bike that allowed him to sit low to the ground and lean back. He suffered a brain injury from a roadside bomb that leaves him with dizzy spells.

“I’m hoping to keep up with everybody,” he said.

Ride organizers Bob and Debra Racine made sure everybody kept up.

“We ride as fast as the slowest rider, with our primary focus being on recovery and camaraderie,” they said on the Warrior Ride website (www.thewarriorride.org). “Never leaving anyone behind. These rides will push you physically and mentally, but there will always be some one there to show you that you can do it. That’s what it’s all about, trust, esprit de corps, and renewing faith in yourself.”

The Racines are based in Oak Island, N.C. Debra drove a truck that led the pack during the local rides, and Bob rode a bicycle with the group.

A half-dozen men came down from Fort Bragg.

“Their spirit is outstanding,” said Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Thornton, the group leader. “They seem to be more engaged, with a better outlook on things, no more self-pity.”

The ride inspires self-confidence and helps brings men out of the isolation that serious injuries can cause, according to the organizers.

“They all get the opportunity to know each other, which builds bonds that they never had before,” Thornton said. “This helps them with their physical fitness, their mobility and also expands their community, who they can know, who they can talk to.”

The nonprofit organization outfits the special bicycles with grants and donations.