Injured veterans push their limits on 300-mile bike trek - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Injured veterans push their limits on 300-mile bike trek

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Staff Sgt. Lani Abalama Staff Sgt. Lani Abalama
Sgt. David Blanco Sgt. David Blanco
Sgt. Arnold Biany Sgt. Arnold Biany

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- This morning dozens of cyclists are riding through the streets of Louisville as part of the first ever Ride2Recovery Bluegrass Challenge.

The are veterans who were hurt in Iraq or Afghanistan. All have war stories to tell, and all have faced death.

"In August of 2011 we were out on patrol in Afghanistan and I got struck by a hand grenade that landed four inches from my left foot," said St. Sgt. Lani Abalama.

"I was hit in Iraq, May 2003," said Sgt. Arnold Biany. "I got hit by an RPG and IED at the same time."

They are now all soldiers in recovery, part of the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Knox.

Their former commander, Lt. Col David Haines, is there too. Haines was an Infantry Operations Officer when he was hit by a roadside bomb in Iraq.

"I was struck by shrapnel in my right femur," Haines said. "It blew about an inch segment out of my right femur and also struck in my left arm and it segmented my ulnar nerve in my ulna bone in my left arm. I also received a lot of smaller shrapnel injuries to my right hand, upper right arm and right side."

Haines recalls having a heart to heart conversation with a doctor at an Army hospital in Landstuhl, Germany.

"I was not looking real good, I was pretty broke up," Haines said. "And he asked me, 'At the end of this, after we've pieced you back together, what do you want to be able to do?' And the two biggest things I told him I wanted to be able to do is I wanted to be able to stay in the Army and I wanted to be able to ride my bicycle again."

Haines was an avid cyclist before his injury and says cycling motivated him to get through three years of difficult rehab.

In 2009 he got wind of a bicycle ride for wounded U.S. soldiers called "Ride2Recovery."

"So that gave me a training goal of eight months out to say hey I want to do this 300-mile ride in Colorado and I started to get very serious about training on the bike again."

He finished that race and soon after formed a cycling training group at Fort Knox.

Sgt. David Blanco, Staff Sgt. Lani Abalama and Sgt. Arnold Biany all signed up.

"It makes me feel like I can still accomplish something even though I'm hurt," Biany said.

This week they are testing their endurance and sheer mental-will on a near 300-mile ride from Cincinnati through Louisville and down to Nashville.

They'll join dozens of other soldiers who were hurt in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Biany says there's a reason why he rides.

"Just knowing that you ride with what the best America has to offer, [who] gave everything they have and now they're riding," Biany said.

Blanco says cycling has saved him in many ways. "It's brought me back to the level where I'm able to function as a solider, as a husband, as a father."

Haines says it's important having something to focus on can only help heal the wounds of war.

"I really am a believer that it doesn't have to be cycling that gets you better, but you have to pick an activity that you love that you can get something out of," Haines said.

This week the road becomes their battleground as they fight to cross the finish line. Today's course takes riders 49 miles from downtown Louisville to Elizabethtown.

There is one added stop at 8:30 at U of L's Grawemeyer Hall for a brief ceremony.


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