- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 10, 2005

When Heath Calhoun and Ryan Kelly came to the District in 2003, they were carried on stretchers by medics into Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Yesterday, they pedaled back into the District on their own.

Mr. Kelly, 24, and Mr. Calhoun, 25, both former staff sergeants who were injured in Iraq in 2003, are attempting to cycle across the country as part of the Soldier Ride program, which raises money and awareness for soldiers like them injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr. Kelly lost a leg above the knee. Mr. Calhoun, who lost both legs, powers a specially fitted cycle with his arms.

Upon leaving the District, they will head to New York to conclude their 4,200-mile journey.

Soldier Ride raised $2 million last year for the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit group that helps disabled soldiers navigate their new lives. Soldier Ride Founder Chris Carney, 35, hopes to raise as much this year.

Soldier Ride was born in a Montauk, N.Y., bar as Mr. Carney, a bartender and personal trainer, and a group of friends talked about how to help a local soldier who had been injured in Iraq. They decided on a bike ride and committed to the idea after they visited wounded soldiers at Walter Reed.

“I don’t think finance should determine whether a mother can visit her son in the hospital,” Mr. Carney said.

During the visit, they met John Melia, founder of the Wounded Warrior Project, and decided to team up to raise money to help more soldiers.

Mr. Melia, a former Marine injured in a 1992 helicopter crash in Somalia, said the ride is a perfect way to help the project do more.

Yesterday began with a visit with President Bush at the White House. D.C. police escorted the column of riders, many of whom are recovering at Walter Reed, around the Washington Monument, the World War II Memorial and the Korean War Memorial.

At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Mr. Calhoun and Mr. Kelly pedaled toward the Wall for a photograph. Park volunteer Betty Henry approached them immediately.

“I’m sorry, there are no bicycles allowed at the memorial,” she said.

Mr. Calhoun, who rides in a three-wheeled recumbent bike, looked up at Ms. Henry.

“Ma’am, I have no legs,” he said.

Ms. Henry’s features softened.

“Welcome home, then,” she said, hugging the men.

As they left, a column of tourists applauded.

Mr. Kelly, who has finished much of his rehabilitation and is back home in Prescott, Ariz., pulled aside a young Marine who is just beginning to heal from a March 18 ambush that cost him a leg.

Marine Lance Cpl. Aaron Rice, 21, of Starkville, Miss., was concerned about riding without his prosthesis. Mr. Kelly took him down 14th Street Northwest so they could practice alone. By the end of the ride, Cpl. Rice has decided to continue on to New York.

Though the journey was tough at times, Mr. Calhoun, who lives in Clarksville, Tenn., said they stayed focused by thinking of the soldiers they are helping.

“We’ve been in those hospital beds before,” he said. “We know we’ll get there eventually. We’ll just take it a crank at a time.”

The group’s spirits were dimmed May 27, when Mr. Calhoun hit the tire of a tractor-trailer in Mesquite, Nev. The accident totaled his bike, and he was out of the running for two days.

However, he said he had trained too long and too hard to let the setback get to him. Though he had never made a bike trip like this before, he trained for two hours a day on his three-wheeled bike, covering 200 miles of paths near his home. It took three months to build up the strength in his arms to carry him across the country.

The group set off May 21 from the Santa Monica Pier in California, stopping at Dodger Stadium, where Mr. Calhoun threw out the first pitch. On Saturday, they traversed Maryland along the C&O Canal, a shaded path that was a welcome relief from the July heat.

After an overnight stay in the District, the riders will stop in Baltimore, then try to reach Montauk by July 19. They plan to dip their front tires in the Atlantic Ocean.

“The soldiers recovering across the country and overseas see this support,” Mr. Carney said. “And it helps them to know the job they do is appreciated.”

Donations can be made through the Soldier Ride Web site www.soldierride.com or by calling 866/743-3441

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