Road to recovery

U.S. Army Sgt. Matthew Buschagen of Howland will be wrapping up his 430-mile bike ride along the Gulf Coast today with a group of about 200 other wounded veterans and active duty soldiers as part of Ride to Recovery’s Gulf Coast Challenge.

The group headed out Saturday from New Orleans on their way to Tallahassee, Fla. The ride is part of each individual’s physical and mental rehabilitation as they come from military hospitals and rehabilitation centers across the country. Some are missing limbs, while others – such as Buschagen – have traumatic brain injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder.

It becomes just as much about the camaraderie of the riders as it is about their recovery, Buschagen said.

“You look to your right and you look to your left and see someone missing an arm or a leg,” Buschagen said in a long-distance interview. “It’s rewarding (to see their accomplishments).”

Buschagen described the first day of biking and a lot of the veterans getting used to riding. Becoming accustomed to toe clips and refitting prosthetics is all part of the process.

“It’s an individual challenge,” said Deb Spano, public relations director of Ride to Recovery. “It’s being with a group of people that understand you.”

Buschagen has been deployed three times. The last deployment took him to Afghanistan, where he was attacked by suicide bombers upon entering a house. He now is based at Fort Jackson in South Carolina.

Riders have stopped along the way to talk with local officials and school children. He described having kids lining the roads and urging them on with chants of “Go U-S-A!”

“A simple thank you is really nice to hear,” Buschagen said.

In Alabama, the group stopped to talk with a World War II vet who was part of the Bataan Death March in the Philippines in 1942. During the march, an estimated 10,000 of the 70,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war perished as Japanese military forced them to march 63 miles under terrible conditions and treatment.

By Thursday afternoon, the group was 20 miles from Panama City, Fla., their destination for the day.

“These guys are here saying ‘I’m up to the challenge. I don’t need pity; I’m useful to society, and this is part of my process,'” Spano said.

Ride to Recovery partners with the Fitness Challenge Foundation to raise money to support Spinning Recovery Labs and other outdoor cycling programs to benefit military and Veterans Affairs locations across the country.

“No matter what we’re going through,” Buschagen said, “we look up, smile, and carry on.”