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Cyclists Conquer Challenging Course at DoD Warrior Games

June 07, 2018

Athletes took on heat, headwinds, the altitude and sharp turns during cycling competition at the 2018 Department of Defense Warrior Games outside the U.S. Air Force Academy stadium here yesterday.

The day began with the cycling time trial, the first cycling time trial in the Warrior Games’ eight-year history.

Army Staff Sgt. Ross Alewine, an infantryman stationed at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, was excited to compete in the time trial, since it’s a sport he will compete in at the Invictus Games in Sydney, Australia, for the U.S. team in October.

Alewine said he has been training hard for the Warrior Games.

“I’ve put in the work. I’ve dropped 41 pounds in almost three months. When I was out there, I was just thinking about my breathing and giving it my all until the end,” he said.

Alewine, who’s transitioning out of the Army, said he’s proud to represent his service branch.

“We’re the baddest Army in the world for a reason,” he said. “My first duty station was at Fort Carson, so I’m going out where I came in.”

Alewine took bronze in his category for the time trials.

Medically retired Australian army Cpl. Jason McNulty took gold in his category in the cycling time trials.

“I think there’s a true place in veteran recovery through cycling. I’ve been in some very bad places, and my bike’s my psychiatrist,” he said.

McNulty earned bronze in time trial at Invictus last year in Toronto, Canada. “I was beaten by the British — that was a bit of a punch in the face,” he said.

This year, McNulty beat a British athlete. “There’s one back for you,” he joked.

During the road race, athletes complete a set distance in the fastest time so they are out on the course riding alone.

Road Race

As the day progressed, heat and a threat of lightning but no rain delayed the road race by a few hours. The temperature was slightly cool, but added humidity and a headwind presented challenges for the competitors.

Canadian navy Lt. Allison Laker, a naval warfare officer stationed in Ottawa, Ontario, said the first half of the course was downhill, where the cyclists could pick up speed.

Then they hit a few hills, had a gradual climb, a sharp turn and another steep hill to go through before it flattened out, Laker said. They hit another incline before the course flattened into the finishing stretch.

“The wind was completely in your face. The course was really challenging, but everybody put their hearts out on the line today and did awesome,” she said.

Laker rode with the Canadian flag on her upright. “Everyone’s been amazing,” she said. “I’ve made some lifelong friends.”

McNulty and teammate, retired Army Maj. Tim Grover, let Team U.S. Special Operation Forces Command’s Army Staff Sgt. Jimmy Covas take the early lead for the first two laps of the men’s upright, but then they stepped it up and took a commanding lead. They finished hand-in-hand at 35:35. Grover took the gold, McNulty and their teammate, Air Force Flight Sgt. Ben Morgan took third, with Australia sweeping the podium.

“We were just going to work as a team and just see how it goes. Just put it on the line, win or lose,” Grover said. “It’s a great experience to stand up there, all Australians.”

Army Sgt. 1st Class Hyoshin Cha, a medical logistics specialist from Fort Bliss, Texas, worked with teammate, Army Staff Sgt. Tiffany Rodriguez-Rexroad, a military intelligence system maintainer from Fort Huachuca, Arizona, to earn bronze in hand cycling. Rodriguez-Rexroad took silver.

“The course was very rough and challenging,” Cha said. She took bronze in the time trial earlier in the day.

“We drafted off each other,” Cha continued. Rodriguez-Rexroad, she said, first took the lead position.

“And then when I saw her kind of struggle, I took lead,” Cha said. “We weren’t going to leave each other. Never leave a fallen comrade behind. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter as long as we finish together.”

Cha said the Army team is like a family, and she wouldn’t have medaled without her family. “We couldn’t have made it as far without one another,” she said.

Overcoming Injury

For the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force Warrant Officer Simon Chapman, who’s been serving for 32 years, this was a chance to show the younger generation he could still compete, and an opportunity to compete on an upright again.

While training for a time trial, he was riding at 44 mph when a vehicle hit him head on at 65 mph in 2007. He injured his quadriceps muscle and now has two prosthetic hips. “It knocked my confidence a little bit on the bike. I felt I lost a lots of power, and I thought I wouldn’t be able to get back on a bike again,” Chapman said.

He began training and began swimming again. He went to the U.K. trials, and trained and competed with some of his teammates here at the Warrior Games.

Though they were in different disability categories, six U.K. cyclists worked as a team in a pack, drafting and taking care of each other, focusing more on finishing together than on the medals, Chapman said.

“We worked as a team and we’re so proud of each other for doing that,” he said. “We stuck together. They pushed it until the end, even though they knew they probably wouldn’t get any medals. But that’s the team spirit.”

Medals are secondary, Chapman said.

“It’s the guys overcoming what they’ve had to deal with, and actually mixing it with the best and that’s not just the U.K., that’s the U.S., the Canadians and the Australians, too,” he said.

Many of the cyclists have post-traumatic stress and/or traumatic brain injuries, and being able to maintain their focus on the course took strength, Chapman said.

“To keep that distance together for that length of time that we did. The mental strength that takes — not just the physical strength. Because when you’re drafting a couple of inches from your colleagues, you have total trust. And that’s what the military is all about, isn’t it?” he said.

Cycle Crash, Recovery

Air Force Master Sgt. Lisa Goad, 49th Security Forces Squadron, Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, came down the first hill hard during the time trial. She did a 360-degree flip on her hand cycle, and hit her head, face first. Her bike’s gears had locked up and the chain fell off. She said two volunteers rushed to fix her bike, and she refused medical help so that she could get back into the race.

“I actually caught up to the third-place girl and came in three seconds behind her,” Goad said. “I just wanted to finish, no matter what. So that felt really good.”

Later, Goad prepared to compete in the road race course. “I thought, ‘Well, it can’t get any worse than this, so just keep going.’”

Because of the earlier crash, Goad said she took some turns a little slower than she normally would. Yet, she still earned the silver medal in her disability category.

Goad said her team has been like a family, cheering her on.

“We truly are a team,” she said. “Everybody is helping each other and taking care of each other. This is an amazing experience.”

(Follow Shannon Collins on Twitter: @CollinsDoDNews)