This year a composite team of American military members will compete in the Race Across America with the goal of raising $100,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project, which helps injured service men and women readapt to regular life.
Dubbed Team 4Mil, the 8-man squad includes Master Sergeant Dean Wagner, who lost his hand in Iraq. Using slightly modified bikes, Wagner still races regularly.
The RAAM team competition begins June 12 in Oceanside, California, and ends in Annapolis, Maryland, the home of the Naval Academy. The 3,000-plus-mile course includes more than 100,000 feet of cumulative climbing and tracks through 14 states. This year race organizers added three new “Challenge Cup” categories to the event: Armed Forces, Collegiate and Club.
“The concept of attracting a group of U.S. military cyclists to compete in RAAM 2010 came from Dan Schindler (Navy) and Roy Collins (Coast Guard), who quickly generated interest among our military cycling family,” said Major Jim Weinstein, Ph.D. “The team has members of the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard Reserve.”
Collins and the other racers on the team were quick to clarify that Team4Mil carries no federal endorsement of any kind — it is simply a racing squad comprised of current and former military members.
“We are operating our team like a military mission: organize, train and equip,” said Collins. “We have a very functional chain of command within our team. We have a lot of operational military experience on our team including more than a half-dozen deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and other operations around the globe. We know what it takes to be successful, to perform under stress, and to train hard with objective-minded planning.”
Most of the cyclists on Team4Mil race throughout the year. Wagner lost his right hand and received injuries to his leg during his second rotation to Iraq from a flash-bang grenade. On his race bike, Wagner uses electric Shimano Di2 shifters. “The Di2 is a huge help: I just touch the button with my left thumb on the crossbar shifter,” he said. “My mechanics just flipped the brake/shifter to the crossbar and we added a small attachment in place of the hood for my prosthetic to clip into.”
His training bike is set up similarly, but with standard Dura-Ace shifters that he says are a little harder to operate. On his time trial bike, Wagner uses a single level to control both brake calipers. Regardless of the set up, Wagner’s competitors are more concerned about his legs than his arms — “Most guys don’t even know I’m missing a hand until after the race is over.”
To prepare for RAAM, the team will do some big mileage weeks and some training at threshold.
“The team RAAM event is very different than the individual,” Weinstein said. “How you best use your 8-person team is part of the tactical approach.”
The Wounded Warrior Project helps wounded U.S. Service members recover from physical and mental trauma and transition back into society. It provides everything from timely care packages to family counseling, peer mentoring, caregiver retreats and advocacy. The WWP also organizes a “Soldier Ride” that simultaneously uses cycling as a rehabilitative tool as well as an awareness generator.
“Here’s the issue,” Collins said. “Never before in the history of warfare has a country’s wartime medical community been so successful at saving lives. The latest numbers I’ve read about suggest a survival rate of nearly 98 percent — and that is, in part, a testament to the amazing young men and women in the medical community, their training and their service. But one of the consequences is that U.S. Service members are surviving from devastating injuries, their lives are continuing, yet they, their families and their communities just aren’t fully prepared. The Wounded Warrior Project has helped to fill this gap and we believe the assistance they provide to our wounded vets — including the soldier ride, is so very worthy of our support efforts.”
“The WWP and Team 4Mil believe strongly in the rehabilitative benefits of exercise, and in particular cycling,” Collins said. “The freedom that a bicycle offers, the human powered element, and the challenge offered help foster confidence, independence and health. It was an easy decision for Team 4Mil to get behind the WWP mission.”
Jim Weinstein (Air Force)
Dan Schindler (Navy)
Roy Collins (Coast Guard)
Kyle Pitman (Marine Corps)
Peggy LeGrande (Navy)
Adam Kruse (Air Force)
Tom Draffen (Marine Corps)
Dean Wagner (Army)