8 war-wounded Brits with 7 legs race 3,051 miles across US by bike
London, June 24 (ANI): A team of eight seriously-wounded British ex-servicemen with just seven legs between them, took part in one of the world's toughest endurance contests by cycling in the Race Across America.
Race Across America is a coast-to-coast relay bicycle marathon through deserts, mountains and plains that is one of the most formidable endurance events in the world.
The contest would be tough enough for the fittest able-bodied competitor.
But Sgt Mark Allen had been riding with a prosthetic leg, and Staff Sgt Steve Arnold has been pumping the pedals of a hand bicycle with his arms from his near-horizontal position just inches from the road, the stumps of his missing legs in front of him.
Supported by the charity Help for Heroes, the two men are members of a team of eight British war wounded with just seven legs - and a string of serious injuries - between them.
They paid a heavy physical price for their bravery and courage fighting for their country in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Now they are cycling 3,051 miles across America in just eight days in a remarkable demonstration of defiance, resilience and life beyond injury.
SSgt Arnold, 32, a Royal Engineer, lost both his legs when he stepped on a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan in April last year.
"I wanted to show everyone that life isn't over if you get injured, even serious injuries like this," the Telegraph quoted him as saying.
Others shared a similar motivation to inspire fellow war heroes and inform the public.
24-year-old Royal Marine commando, Joe Townsend's legs were blown off below the knee by an improvised explosive device (IED) on patrol in Afghanistan in 2008.
"My hope is to prove that after injury there are no limitations and that you can get out of life what you put into it," he said.
The team emerged from the gruelling climbs and dizzying descents of the Rockies and plunged into the seemingly never-ending expanses of the prairie in America's heartland.
The race is a major logistical operation for the team, who are both backed by and raising funds for Help for Heroes.
They rode in relay around the clock, one cyclist on the road at a time, followed by 18 support crew - physiotherapists, doctors, logistics staff, drivers and mechanics - in five vehicles.
The men have been training since last year under the guidance of race crew chief Jonpaul Nevin, the chief coach at Help for Heroes' Tedworth House recovery facility in Wiltshire.
Each rider, for whom cycling is part of their medical rehab, races several stretches a day, grabbing rest and sleep when they can in the accompanying transit vans and motor homes [RVs].
The team has been averaging more than 17 miles an hour, putting them on schedule to complete the ride on Saturday evening at Annapolis in Maryland on the Chesapeake Bay where some wives and girlfriends were waiting to greet them.
Each cyclist was followed by a support car, not least as a protective measure against other vehicles.
It was in this race in 2010 that James Cracknell, the Olympic rowing gold medallist, was nearly killed when he was hit by a truck in Arizona.
Food was boil-in-the-bag meals of beef stew, chilli con carne, chicken curry and the like, supplemented with cereal bars and sweets.
In their kits of red, white and blue, Team Battle Back were racing on four normal upright bicycles and, for the double leg amputees, four hand-cranked machines, each adapted to the injuries of their individual riders.
These have sponge seats for the riders as they lie almost flat, their eye line just above the chain, and propel themselves with their hands and arms using specially-modified gear and brake systems.
For Steve Richardson, there was an added challenge as he not only has no legs but has also lost all but four fingers - one on his right-hand and three on his left.
Pte Richardson, 22, an infantryman, lost his legs to an IED during a firefight in Afghanistan in 2010.
Medics bound up his hands with tape as added protection beneath his cycling gloves, but the strain was still taking its toll.
"You do start questioning why you are here at times," Richardson said.
"But it'll be worth it when we've finished," he said.
The fourth double amputee is Sgt Simon Harmer, 34, who also lost both legs to a roadside bomb.
For Team Battle Back, finishing the contest is a victory in its own right.
But they have also been involved in their own private contest with the Wounded Warrior Project, a team of injured US servicemen.
The Americans were on course to win that tussle, although the British racers pointed out that just one of the rival eight riders is a hand-cyclist. (ANI)
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