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Wounded Warriors: Trailblazer and the Biffmaster

  • By Bob Babbitt
  • Published Jul. 22, 2011
  • Updated Nov. 5, 2013 at 4:12 PM EDT
President George W. Bush on the front aboard his Trek Superfly 100. Bush is leading 14 veterans wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan in the Big Bend Ranch State Park of Texas during the first day of the W100K mountain bike ride. Photo by Paul Morse.

Wounded Warriors: The Way to W100K

Former President George W. Bush off the front. Courtesy photo

The plan for the W100K started to germinate when the President’s personal spokesman, David Sherzer, called Self in February of 2011 to let Chris and his wife Dana know that the President would be coming to Fort Campbell for the release of his book and wanted to meet.

“I was asked if I could help them find some injured troops and representatives from groups that support the troops to go on a little mountain biking adventure,” recalls Self.

Not a problem. Self totally understands the mindset of an injured serviceman or woman. When he first came to CAF’s San Diego Triathlon Challenge in San Diego back in October of 2006, Self couldn’t run or ride at all. He was in the recovery mode.

“I spent that weekend soaking up information from other guys who had already figured out what they wanted to do in sport,” he says. “The best part about getting wounded guys together is to share your experiences, to learn about each person’s path to recovery.”

For Staff Sergeant Kenny Butler, 31, from Braintree, Massachusetts, it was the events of Sept. 11, 2001 that led him to enlist in the Army Airborne Infantry. He was based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina and did three tours overseas, his first in Afghanistan in 2002 and then three in Iraq. On May 14, 2007, the Humvee he was in hit a roadside bomb outside of Baghdad.

“The explosion was so loud I couldn’t hear the gunner yelling out at me,” he recalls. “When I was hit, my right arm had been blown off and was loose in the sleeve of my uniform. I wasn’t surprised when I woke up at Walter Reed and it was gone. The doctors told me that if my team at the scene hadn’t reacted the way they did, I would not have made it. I owe them my life.”

When he returned home, he went online and looked for videos of one arm athletes riding bikes and then went on a Ride 2 Recovery event in Texas in 2008.

“I saw a lot of guys with way more severe wounds then me,” says Butler. “I knew then that there was no room for the tiny heart syndrome.”
Tiny heart syndrome?

“You know,” he continues, “when you start to feel sorry for yourself.”

Butler is going to school at Norwich University and transferring to Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts this fall. He is studying education and history and hopes to become a teacher down the line.

What he has learned from dealing with not only the loss of his right arm, but also all of the shrapnel that punctured his body that day in May, was that he has to stay active and expand his lungs every day so that the scar tissue he has doesn’t tighten up and force him to lose
flexibility.

On the mountain bike Butler was amazing. With his prosthetic arm he hung tough with President Bush throughout the Warrior 100K.

“I was impressed with how President Bush rides,” says Butler, “He’ll drop you quick if you’re not careful.”

Army Specialist Juan Carlos Hernandez, 24, from Schulenburg, Texas could relate.

“I wasn’t expecting President Bush to be as fast as he was,” says Hernandez. “He’s in great shape.”

Hernandez is as well. In 2010, the lower leg amputee did all five of the Ride 2 Recovery events plus one in Europe benefitting injured British troops. Hernandez went into the Army right out of high school and in December of 2008 went to Afghanistan where he was a gunner on a Chinook Helicopter. In October of that same year, while on a mission, the chopper he was in was hit by a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) under the left gunner’s window.

“I knew I was hit,” he remembers, “and I knew something was terribly wrong. I couldn’t feel either leg.”

If the RPG had hit the chopper two feet over, it would have hit the gas tank and no one would have survived. As it turned out, Hernandez was the only one wounded.

“My leg was amputated in Afghanistan,” he continues. “After that I was in Germany for a day, then Walter Reed and finally on to Brooke Army Hospital.”

He was 22 years old at the time of the accident and his background as an athlete had been in football, baseball and power lifting. At 197 pounds, he bench pressed 405 pounds as a senior in high school.

“There was a cycling program at the hospital and I started out using a handcycle before receiving my prosthetic and getting back on a road bike.”

His first event with Ride 2 Recovery was in April of 2010, the five day Texas based San Antonio to Arlington event. He was hooked.
Hernandez is pretty easy to spot when he’s riding the roads or the trails. His girlfriend, Courtney, decided that she would dress up Hernandez’ prosthetic for the holidays. Paper hearts were glued on for Valentine’s Day, Shamrocks on St. Patrick’s Day and multi-colored eggs during Easter.

“On Memorial Day she’ll be putting American flags all over my leg,” he says.

Hernandez just finished his first semester at San Antonio Community College and he’s planning to major in Kinesiology.

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