Not a single day passed during her 62-day bicycle ride across America when Chief Petty Officer Sabrina Hearst didn’t think to herself, “Just one more mile.”
But her thoughts were not for her own self-motivation as she endured weeks of 100-plus degree temperatures, frequent muscle pain and fatigue. Her thoughts were for her teammates, the 17 disabled veterans and able-bodied riders who became her extended family during the two months they spent together on the asphalt.
She joined veterans like 63-year old Bill Czyzewski, who lost his leg in 1970 while serving with the Army in the Vietnam War. He completed the entire trip on a hand cycle; a far more challenging mode of transportation than a bicycle. Also on the ride was Army Capt. Ivan Castro who sustained life-threatening injuries, including the loss of his eyesight, during a mortar attack in Iraq in 2006. Castro is one of three blind officers currently serving in the Army and the only blind officer serving with the Army’s Special Forces. He completed the ride on a tandem bicycle piloted by another rider.
As a member of the World T.E.A.M. Sports Sea to Shining Sea Ride Across America, the riders began their journey in San Francisco May 28 and finished the 3,820 mile adventure in Virginia Beach, Va., July 28.
For them, one more mile meant one more small affirmation that their disabilities could not prevent them from accomplishing their goals. One more mile put them just a little closer to their ultimate goal of completing the Ride Across America and raising public awareness of the unbounded abilities of our disabled and wounded veterans.
Hearst, an instructor with the Leadership and Management School at Training Center Petaluma has both a lifelong love of bicycling and a personal connection with the challenges faced by people with disabilities.
Her sister, Laura, suffered a spinal cord injury and became a paraplegic at age 29; living with complications from the injury until her death at age 48. It was Laura’s constant spirit and determination, even in the face of a life-changing injury, that inspired Hearst to make this ride.
She drew additional inspiration from one of her former commanding officers, Capt. Ross Bell, having served with him on Coast Guard Cutter Rush early in her career. Bell sustained serious injuries while serving as the executive officer onboard the Coast Guard Cutter Point Welcome in Vietnam, yet continued to lead and inspire his crews throughout his 36 years of military service.
Hearst, the only Coast Guard member on the team, was already planning for an extended bike trip throughout the Western states this summer when a fellow Coast Guardsman alerted her to a solicitation from World T.E.A.M. Sports and their search for able-bodied riders from the military services to participate in the event.
With the support of her command she contacted World T.E.A.M. Sports and was selected as one of two able-bodied riders. Her extensive travel schedule as one of the school’s leadership instructors left her little time to train for the bike ride of her life, but she managed to squeeze in rides from her home in Santa Rosa, Calif., whenever possible to prepare herself for the demands of extended periods of cycling; often in excess of 70 miles per day.
But the pain and stiffness she experienced almost daily were quickly dispelled as she experienced America – and the American spirit – from a perspective few of us will ever know.
Throughout their journey, the team was welcomed almost daily in both cities and small towns alike by various veteran’s organizations, community groups and well-wishers eager to show their appreciation and respect for each team member’s perseverance and determination in the midst of their own personal challenges.