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Bicycle riders push expectations from Sea to Shining Sea

July 18, 2010|By JENNIFER FITCH
  • Scott Bilyeu, who was injured serving in Afghanistan with the U.S. Air Force, passes through Waynesboro, Pa., on Sunday as part of the Sea to Shining Sea Bike Ride.
Jennifer Fitch, Staff Writer

WAYNESBORO, Pa. -- A year ago, Staff Sgt. Marc Esposito was in a wheelchair at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Today he'll return to Walter Reed, this time walking through the doors and carrying with him a message of exceeding expectations.

It's taken the better part of 4,000 miles and 63 days to get Esposito and 16 other bicyclists to this point. On Sunday, they passed through Fulton and Franklin counties on the Sea to Shining Sea Bike Ride hosted by World T.E.A.M. Sports and State Farm.

The athletes, many of whom were injured in Iraq or Afghanistan, dipped the back tires of their bicycles in the water before crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and starting the ride May 22. They plan to dip the bikes' front tires in the water at Virginia Beach on Saturday.

The riders have encountered rain, snow and plenty of hot days like Sunday. The journey has taken the men and women through deserts, past historic landmarks, and up a 11,300-foot peak in Colorado.

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"It's rewarding to come up the hills," Esposito said. "Every time the riders crest a hill, a new sense of confidence is instilled in them."

Melissa McKinley travels with the group as a public relations specialist through State Farm. She's watched as, on some of those hills, the more able-bodied riders assist those using specially designed bikes that accommodate their disabilities.

The riders started Sunday morning in Breezewood, Pa., and stopped for the night in Emmitsburg, Md. Today, they'll travel from Emmitsburg through Unionville, Patuxent River State Park and Olneyon their way to Walter Reed.

Esposito said he hopes to inspire wounded veterans or any disabled person to defy medical expectations. He thinks of his own time training for U.S. Air Force special operations, when he was told that "exceeding standards" is the standard.

"We want them to say, 'If these guys can go from sea to shining sea, ... then I can get back to therapy and get back to the life I want,'" Esposito said.

Esposito said he was unconscious for a few days after an improvised explosive device explosion he and comrades experienced in Afghanistan. He broke his back and all the bones below his knees, and suffered burns.

"I was really lucky because I was able to rebound in the past year," said Esposito, of Illinois.

The mission of Sea to Shining Sea, which is World T.E.A.M.'s longest bike trek, is described in press materials as honoring the courage of service members and the American spirit. It also serves to challenge perceptions of how we view athletes.

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