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South Texas VA hosts second Adaptive Cycling Camp

A VA employee shares a laugh with a patient on a recumbent bike

Recreation Therapist Dawn Phillips shares a laugh with a patient during the second Adaptive Cycling Camp held at the South Texas VA. Phillips ensures the patient is comfortable and is using the equipment properly.

By Steve Goetsch
Friday, June 22, 2018
The South Texas VA Recreation Therapy Service again partnered with Operation Comfort to offer Veterans of all abilities the chance to experience adaptive sports. The three day event drew about 50 Veterans, a mixture of injuries, abilities and cycling experience. One of those Veterans, Jim Madison, who suffered several injuries, was one of those Veteran riders. He advocates for adaptive sports every chance he gets. “For me, it’s just a feeling of freedom again,” Madison said. 

Madison has his own hand crank bike, but that is not a requirement for the camp which was the brainchild of South Texas VA Recreation Therapist Dawn Phillips. As a recreation therapist, Phillips has seen what getting Veterans back in the saddle can do for them. “Quality of life can be lost or forgotten when a traumatic injury strikes,” Phillips said. “I saw a need to restore this quality in the lives of our Veterans.” She added that recreation therapy provides a way back to life, enjoyment and happiness. a couple riders are cycling down a bike path

The 3-day camp culminates with a 14 mile group ride. Because there are different levels of injury and cycling ability, the riders break up into groups based on skill level.

That statement was verified by the eagerness of participants to try out some of the latest technology in adaptive cycling. Phillips has partnered with several local bike manufacturers and maintainers so the Veteran can “test-drive” several models. The maintainers and instructors make the mechanical adjustments so the Veteran can ride safely and comfortably. That is just one part of the camp as participants also learn about cycling etiquette, safe maneuvering and maintenance. One goal of the camp is increase independence.  

That service was appreciated by Army Veteran Steve Dunn, who chose a recumbent bike (a recumbent bike takes the rider much lower, extending the legs forward. “This is a totally different sensation than uprights,” Dunn said. “You can see so much of the world from down here, and I don’t have any pain in my tailbone.”

Physical pain isn’t the only concern of Phillips. “Getting out and being active is the best medicine,” she said. “These Veterans are able to share experiences, build a camaraderie and motivate each other with new excitement and adventure.”

That motivation and excitement came through during a water break before the Veterans headed out on their final 14-mile group ride. Instead of talking about war injuries, and doctor’s appointments, conversations turned to debate about the best bike manufacturer and where to purchase cheap bike gear. Dunn, who was new to biking, quickly felt at home. “I never thought in a million years that I would like this,” Dunn said, but it definitely took away my anxiety.” A small group of three riders are on a park bike path.

The riders battled the heat and the San Antonio traffic to get through their 14 mile ride. The hills in McAllister Park made the ride extremely challenging. (VA photos by Steve Goetsch)

Founder of Operation Comfort, Janis Roznowski, was not a cyclist. She doesn't even really have a history of Veterans in her family. What she did have was an international occupation, that brought her into contact  with many Veterans who were traveling in and out of the warzone as a flight attendant. “When I met these servicemembers, and heard their stories, they just touched my heart,” Roznowski said. She has been growing her organization ever since. She is now expanded to car restoration and welding. She lets the Veterans steer the direction of her foundation.

Her organization sponsors regular weekly rides in addition to the camp to keep Veterans interested and engaged. Phillips knows how valuable partners like Operation Comfort are because even though she treats Veterans through recreation therapy, she realizes they would not have the means to participate, or stay motivated without their partnership. Phillips intends to grow the program and offer it to as many Veterans as possible.  

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