In the fall of 2010, Cmdr. Ann Williams sent a base-wide e-mail to staff at the former National Naval Medical Center to recruit individuals interested in forming a cycling program on base. She had no idea the amount of support and positive outcomes it would generate.
The cycling program, born out of William's effort, is now open to wounded warriors, as well as all active duty and retired service members who are recovering from illness or injury. Williams, the assistant department head of the main operating room at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC), co-chairs and directs the cycling program with Lt. Cmdr. Bobbi Dittrich, Service Chief of Resiliency and Psychological Health at WRNMMC. Participants are referred to the cycling program for a variety of reasons, including physical, behavioral, and psychological challenges, Williams and Dittrich explained.
Williams continued by stating the cycling program helps wounded warriors transition back into performing physical activities. "It serves as an immediate transition, and provides therapeutic intervention in order to meet the physical, social, emotional, cultural, recreational, and health and wellness needs of recovering service members."
She said the cycling program provides outreach for wounded warriors and recovering service members through the hospital as an extension of their rehabilitation, and enhances their resiliency.
Behavioral Health Service is also involved with the cycling program to assist participants and help them enhance their coping mechanisms as they rehabilitate. Dittrich said she has seen "enormous improvements" in both the physical and emotional aspects of the members in the club.
"Whatever the reason, we have seen clear improvement in mood," Dittrich explained. "[Participants gain] increased tolerance, [become] more confident, energetic, focused, and relaxed, not to mention increase in fitness and health, endurance, stamina, power, and strength."
Although our participants are recovering from diverse injuries, they all have a common bond, Dittrich continued. "This bond of military service and collegiality unites them with a common goal of healing, while respecting each other's abilities to work toward that goal."
She added cycling brings veterans together to support, encourage, inspire, and motivate each other. Each participant soon realizes they are not alone in their struggles, and not only can they help themselves, but they are helping their peers too.
The program continues to expand due to the contributions and support of a number of organizations.
Many have sponsored riding events, contributed, or helped design and develop adaptive bikes for our amputees, Williams added.
Master Sgt. John Masson, a 16-year Army veteran and triple amputee, has been with the cycling program for six months. He said he originally got into the program for the weight loss aspect, but stayed on when he realized the hidden benefits.
"When you've got limitations, you try to focus on things you can do and not what you [can't]," said Masson, injured on Oct. 16, 2010, in Panjwai, Kandahar, Afghanistan. "This program gave me the opportunity to challenge myself and see how much I can do."
Masson continued, that it's grueling, hard work, but at the end of a ride he felt challenged, and that he has accomplished something. "You feel better about yourself after a challenge," he said.
As an amputee, Masson said he gets a lot of stares from people, and, depending on his mood, this either bothers him or not. "You start to think of yourself as handicapped sometimes [when people stare], but after a riding accomplishment, it doesn't matter - they can stare all they want."
Reaching speeds as high as 40 miles per hour, Masson has become "hooked" on the racing aspect of the cycling and admits he's become a little competitive. He also spends some time at WRNMMC's Military Advanced Training Center, gently influencing the participation of others recovering from injury.
"I've dropped a lot of weight since joining and have gotten in shape - now I want to keep in shape," Masson added.
Williams said they have a monthly "Bethesda Cycling Ride Schedule" of upcoming organized rides, including the Texas Challenge, a ride from San Antonio to Arlington, Texas, and a Redskin Charity Ride with Washington Redskins linebacker Lorenzo Alexander.
"One of our biggest upcoming events is the Memorial Day Challenge," she added. "It starts at Arlington Cemetery on May 28 and ends June 2 in Virginia Beach, totaling [about] 275 miles," said Williams. "We will have a first edition [Walter Reed Bethesda] cycling T-shirts and hope to get the word out about the program."
For more information about the Walter Reed Bethesda cycling program, contact Lt. Cmdr. Barbara Dittrich at (301) 204-1248, or Barbara.dittrichmed.navy.mil, or Cmdr. Ann Williams at (240) 274-2908, or ann.w illiams1med.navy.mil.