Written by Senior Chief Petty Officer Sarah B. Foster and Lt. Caleb James
It was a chilly morning to start the Face of America bicycle ride in Arlington, Virginia, when Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft motioned toward nearly 150 disabled cyclists and addressed the gathered crowd, “If you don’t know what TEAM stands for it’s ‘The Exceptional Athlete Matters” and, if you look toward the veterans who are determined to ride 110 miles, you’ll see our exceptional athletes. We’re all going to finish together and this is going to be an awesome ride.” With these words, and a crowd of cheers, the exceptional athletes headed for the open road with over 400 support riders following behind.
The annual Face of America ride brings together active duty military, first responders, adaptive veterans and civilians in an inclusive bike ride from the Washington D.C. area to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The theme for this year’s ride was “We all ride the same road” and goal of the event is to provide wounded warriors the tools the need to seek active lifestyles and to demonstrate that veterans, and people with disabilities, are capable of meeting any challenge.
Disabled cyclists with customized hand-powered trikes, beginners, and elite cyclists, worked together to reach the top one hill after another – meeting the challenge directly and as a team. The Coast Guard’s 40 person entry is known as “TEAM Coast Guard 1790” which included the Commandant, retired Vice Adm. Manson Brown and retired Rear Adm. David T. Glenn in 2015.
At the beginning, riders breezed through the flat roads surrounding the monuments of D.C. and tracked along the Potomac River. But as the sun set, they climbed out of the river valley to rest overnight in Frederick, Maryland. The next morning’s chill gave way to sunny skies as the Face of America route turned north into the rolling hills of western Maryland countryside, passing through the historic Loys Station covered bridge.
Later in day two, cyclists were surprised by a hilltop neighborhood that had unfurled a giant American flag and cheered on the riders as they approached Gettysburg National Military Park.
“Seeing the giant flag silhouetted and beamed by the sun made me so proud and honored to be part of an event larger than myself- this is my favorite part of the ride,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Steven Natale. “It felt more than patriotic. It was the true meaning of being an American for me, a real American moment.”
It was another well-ridden event for the TEAM Coast Guard 1790, who have been riding the Face of America ride since 2009.
“I thank the Commandant, the Chief’s Mess and my teammates for making this year’s ride so memorable for everyone involved,” said team captain Lt. Caleb James. “The team’s commitment to the exceptional athlete, veterans and shipmates really animated this year’s ride and every member of TEAM Coast Guard 1790 serve as model for servicemen and women to make time for what’s really important them and care for others.