May 26, 2009 forever changed the life of 26-year-old Marc Esposito. Serving in southeast Afghanistan, his unit experienced what so many soldiers have in the United States’ two wars in the Middle East.
“We were going after some bad guys and got involved in an IED incident,” Esposito says. “Our Humvee was struck by an IED with roughly 300 pounds of explosives. We went flying everywhere. I had no heartbeat, no pulse. They pretty much wrote me off.”
Then 25 years old, Esposito woke up several days later in a Germany-based recovery hospital. His first two questions were, “How was everyone else, and when can I get back?” The answer to the latter was not encouraging, considering that he badly damaged almost everything below his knees, with broken bones and burns. On top of that, he broke his back, busted teeth, suffered painful burns elsewhere and was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury.
Seth Arseneau, U.S. Army Specialist, competing on his handcycle.
His story makes his participation in the current State Farm Sea to Shining Sea tour, a 4,000-mile cross-country bike ride honoring disabled veterans, all the more amazing. Esposito, a fan of triathlons before his injury, is one of thirty disabled riders–some with loss of limb injuries and many with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome–honoring current soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. And the trip is not without pain.
“There’s definitely a level of pain I’m going to deal with the rest of my life,” Esposito explains.
After a rest day in Colorado Springs yesterday, the group rolls into the Denver area today, traveling more than 67.5 miles along Highway 105 into Prairie Sky Park in Lone Tree, CO (address here), with a stop in Rock Park in Castle Rock. People are encouraged to come out and support the veterans, which so far has gone over well in previous cities.
“We’re at the top of Monarch Pass (in Colorado) and just dying and out of water,” Esposito recalls. “But people have been there for us and you learn to just expect that they’ll help you out. It’s been great.”
State Farm, the event sponsor, will donate $1, up to $100,000, for every person that shows up in support of these veterans. Organizers are expecting the riders to roll into Lone Tree around 3:00 or 4:00 pm this afternoon. Saturday, the group heads to Fort Morgan, CO, starting between 5:00 and 6:00 am, on its way to Virginia Beach, VA on July 24, the final spot on the 64-day journey that began in San Francisco on May 22.
Riders have had to deal with hail, rain and snow so far, but it’s all been worth it. For Esposito, just 13 months removed from his near-death experience overseas, add one more life-changing event to his young life.
“Honestly, it is absolutely amazing,” Esposito recalls. “We’ve been seeing a lot of beautiful places and supportive Americans. This ride is bigger than anyone of us. We’re just trying to spread the positive motivation.”
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