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Air Force wounded warrior rides from coast to coast
Staff Sgt. Marc Esposito from the 21st Special Tactics Squadron at Pope Air Force Base, N.C, is participating in the Sea to Shining Sea ride hosted by World T.E.A.M. Sports and sponsored by State Farm. It is their longest bike trek across America that started at the Golden Gate Bridge and will end at Virginia Beach, Va., July 24. (Photo by Van Brinson)
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Air Force wounded warrior rides from coast to coast

Posted 7/12/2010   Updated 7/13/2010 Email story   Print story

    


by Maj. Belinda Petersen
Air Force Personnel Center Public Affairs


7/12/2010 - RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- A combat controller who last year was laying in a hospital fighting for his life is now riding his bicycle across America as part of his rehabilitation and to inspire other wounded warriors.

Along with 19 of his teammates, Staff Sgt. Marc Esposito from the 21st Special Tactics Squadron at Pope Air Force Base, N.C, is participating in the Sea to Shining Sea ride hosted by World T.E.A.M. Sports and sponsored by State Farm. It is their longest bike trek across America that started at the Golden Gate Bridge and will end at Virginia Beach, Va., July 24.

"The goal of the ride is to honor the courage of [servicemembers], recognize the strength of the American spirit and challenge perceptions of how we view athletes," said Melissa McKinley, State Farm's public relations specialist for the team.

But before Sergeant Esposito could even get back on his bike, he spent almost a year in hospitals where he underwent several surgeries and extensive rehabilitation.

"In May 2009, I was operating in Afghanistan as a combat controller in support of an Army special operations team," Sergeant Esposito said. "We were going after the bad guys when we hit an IED - everyone in the vehicle was thrown out. I was in the rear of the vehicle, where the concentrated blast came from. I was instantly left unconscious and catapulted from the vehicle.

"When the special operations medical technician found me, he said I was on fire, had no heart beat and wasn't breathing," he said. "My legs and back were broken, and a lot of my teeth were smashed. I also suffered a traumatic brain injury."

And now thanks to the tremendous care and support he received from the medical community and his squadron, Sergeant Esposito is riding his bicycle 4,000 miles through deserts, mountain passes, big cities and small towns.

"It is so inspirational to see Marc and his teammates helping each other all along the way," Ms. McKinley said. "After conquering a hill, Marc will ride back down so he can ride along with someone who needs the encouragement to make it up the hill. That's how Marc is; he always wants to help others."

"I want to help others understand that there is life after an injury or illness," Sergeant Esposito said. "When something traumatic happens, you feel like your life has been turned upside down. Everything is at a standstill. But you have to get back into life by doing what you love and loving what you do."

That's the message he and his teammates are inspiring in others as they ride across America, meeting people at water stops, restaurants, historical landmarks and military bases.

"They are changing people's lives as they go through small towns," Ms. McKinley said.

When the team reaches Washington, Sergeant Esposito wants to visit servicemembers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the same place where he spent several months enduring painful surgeries and not knowing what his future held.

Sergeant Esposito remembers how wonderful it was to have visitors when he was a patient at WRAMC.

"I want to give back by talking to the young troops and letting them know to never give up," Sergeant Esposito said. "I want to inspire in them that they can do it as long as they put their minds to it."

"And an inspiration he is," said Senior Airman Brian Petras from Little Rock AFB, Ark., and who is also participating in the Sea to Shining Sea ride. "We met at the Center for the Intrepid while we were both going through rehabilitation, and we have inspired each other."

"By doing the Sea to Shining Sea ride, we want to prove that we are still an asset to our great country, that we are still very capable and can continue to serve," Airman Petras said.

Along with Sergeant Esposito and Airman Petras, other Air Force riders include Christopher Frost, Kevin Sullivan and Scott Bilyeu.

The team rides anywhere from 30 miles to 120 miles in one day, averaging 77 miles in a day. In two months, team members will only rest 11 days. They entered Sergeant Esposito's home state Friday.

Editor's Note: This is part one of a two-part feature on the Sea to Shining Sea ride currently taking place.



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