“I am cruising down Constitution at a brisk, but comfortable pace. The Washington Monument is directly to my left and the White House is on my right. I hear the roar of the crowd and watch a black SUV filled with Diplomatic Security clear traffic ahead of our large group of riders. About 50 yards in front of me, I can see Benjamin near the front of the pack of veterans riding “hand cycles,” which operate according to the same concept as a bicycle, but are specially adapted for individuals who have limited or no use of their legs. One word jumps to the forefront of my mind: fortunate.
The burning in my legs as I propel my bike forward reminds me that I am fortunate to have the full use of my limbs. Loud cheers that erupt from the crowds of tourists, government employees, and lobbyists who have lined the street to cheer on the veterans participating in the race remind me that we are fortunate to have a military comprised of dedicated men and women who (to borrow a line from the great Aaron Sorkin) “stand on a wall” to protect our freedom. The sight of Benjamin ahead of me reminds me how fortunate I am that he is still alive.
Aside from being my cousin, Benjamin is a huge inspiration and influence on my life. Growing up, Ben and I always enjoyed a close relationship. Our fathers are twin brothers, which Ben tells me actually makes us genetically closer to being brothers than cousins. Whether or not this is true scientifically doesn’t matter much because I know that, at a level beyond scientific understanding, Ben and I are brothers.
Ben joined the Navy in 2000, shortly after graduating college. Following boot camp, he was stationed in Pensacola, Florida where his was trained in cryptology, and then transferred to Naples, Italy. Through sporadic emails, Ben regaled me with photographs of Rome and stories of his new Italian girlfriend. One of my favorite things to hear about was Ben’s new motorcycle. As a typical American adolescent male, the motorcycle was the physical manifestation of the freedom I craved. It seemed that Ben had it all.
In late 2002, however, this image was shattered by a single phone call. Ben had been in an accident while riding his motorcycle, and there was a good chance that he wasn’t going to make it. Tense months passed as we prayed and waited for news of Ben’s recovery. Eventually, it became clear that Ben would survive, but that he would never be able to walk again due to the severe damage he sustained to his spinal cord.
Ben was medically retired from the Navy in 2003 and returned home to Kentucky. Our family gathered around him and tried to do what we could to help in his recovery. It was Ben’s perseverance and desire to not be defined by his disability, however, that drove his recovery. He also brought our family closer together. As a large family with a strong agricultural background, we have always been a close-knit group. It seems that farming breeds large, close families (this is most likely due to the free labor). Ben’s accident and his example drew us even closer together by showing us the fragility of life and forcing us to truly appreciate the time we spend together.
It has been about eight years since his accident and in that time Ben has graduated college, built a house, married a wonderful woman, and fathered a beautiful baby girl. Not one who is content to slow down, Ben is active in adaptive sports and travels across the country to kayak, ski, surf, and bike. He also works to help other injured veterans overcome their disabilities.
When Ben and I decided to form our team for the Honor Ride, we weren’t sure how we would raise the $4000 we were required to raise. We emailed family, friends, and business associates and were able to raise a significant amount of money, but nowhere near what we needed. Then, we received a call from a representative from Koons who had seen our profile on the Wounded Warrior Project’s fundraising website and was interested in sponsoring our ride. Thanks to Koons generous donation, we were able to raise the money we needed to for the ride. All of these funds will go to fund the services that the Wounded Warrior Project provides to the men and women of our armed forces who return home with life-changing injuries.
Ben and I are thankful to Koons for their support and to the Wounded Warrior Project for the great work that they do. Please take some time to visit http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org to learn how you can support this amazing organization and the work that it does for our veterans.”
Thanks for sharing Andrew. We loved meeting you and your cousin, Ben. We wish you both all the best.