Chad Watson, 23, and a university graduate, was a Marine corporal team leader in 2006 in Fallujah, Iraq, on vehicle patrol hit by an IED (improvised explosive device). He lost his right leg above the knee and spent 18 months in a rehabilitation program at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. On this past Flag Day weekend, now-26-year-old Mr. Watson rode an adaptive bicycle in the inaugural Midwest “Soldier Ride,” a part of the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), which he organized with colleague Kevin Hull.
In this ride, 25 men and women wounded in Afghanistan or Iraq cycled on adaptive bicycles in Wisconsin and Illinois over four days hoping to raise awareness and money for the Wounded Warrior Project. The riders stopped at the flagpole in Patriot’s Park for a lunch hosted by the Evanston Bicycle Club.
Joanne Davis, a member of the Evanston Bicycle Club, was instrumental in inviting Melissa Stockwell and Stephen Grabowski (firefighter and rider) to speak at the May 19 Evanston Bicycle Club meeting at the Ecology Center.
Ms. Davis said “that she felt a strong connection and kinship with these men and women as she herself had served for 28 years in the Army Reserve and felt this ride was a positive way to bring attention to the work of the WWP.”
Melissa Stockwell and Andrew Kinard, also shared their stories with a RoundTable reporter. Ms. Stockwell, now 29, was serving in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2004. After graduating from the University of Colorado, at Boulder, with a degree in communications and completing the ROTC program, Ms. Stockwell, a commissioned Army officer, was leading a convoy when her Humvee was destroyed by an IED explosion. She lost her left leg and spent a year recovering and undergoing rehabilitation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. She, too, rode in the Flag Day weekend ride. According to the WWP Board information, Ms Stockwell’s rehabilitation gave her a new interest in her professional life. After a year long residency in 2007, she became a certified prosthetist helping other amputees. Ms. Stockwell has also completed multiple marathons and has become a competitive swimmer.
Mr. Kinard, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate was commissioned into the Marine Corps. While on foot patrol in October, 2006 in the west Al Anbar province, he lost both legs in an IED explosion. After being comatose for a month he was flown to the National Naval Medical Center Bethesda (Md.) Naval Hospital, where he spent three months in intensive care. At Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where Mr. Kinard spent the next 18 months, he became aware of the Wounded Warrior Project through staff members as well as volunteers.
Mr. Watson, Ms. Stockwell and Mr. Kinard shared the experiences not only of being wounded in war but also of transitioning back to productive lives through WWP. Among the peer visitors who called on them during their hospital stays were veterans and other amputees who quietly understood that their purpose was to listen, to share, and to treat patients normally, Mr. Kinard explained. The WWP has become very visible in the lives of the patients, Ms. Stockwell said.
The Wounded Warrior Project, according to its website “is a rehabilitative cycling program for wounded warriors as well as an advocacy program for today’s wounded warriors.” Many of these men and women have been physically active throughout their lives and the WWP provides them with the support to continue to be active.
These rides challenge both the emotional and physical aspects of these veterans who continue taking the initiative in their recovery while returning to the level of prior physical activity they engaged in
before their tours of duty.
Moving on, these riders finished the tour and continued the business of getting on with their lives.
Originally from South Carolina, Mr. Kinard is moving to Cambridge, Mass., where he will be
attending Harvard Law School in the fall. Mr. Watson and Mr. Hull hope to set up a WWP office in Chicago, similar to those in Washington, D.C., New York and California, which would provide a centralized location for WWP Alumni in Illinois for them to meet and help them transition into civilian life through the many services listed on their website.
For more information seewww.woundedwarriorproject.org.