Cycling to Recovery – A Vet’s Story

Cycling to Recovery – A Vet’s Story

by Carlos Barreto, SSG, USA (Ret)

It was December of 05’ when I was deployed to Iraq. Six months later my life would change. I was driving the lead vehicle when I drove over an Improvised Explosive Device (I.E.D.). I was fortunate to have survive the blast. The blast threw my head forward hitting the windshield exposing my neck to shrapnel. I have headaches everyday and suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D.), depression, short term memory loss and other issues from multiple I.E.D.’s, not to mention I have cervical fusion from the blasts.

I have been a different person since then. I didn’t want to do anything with anybody even my own family. I was losing my family and my best friend. I had anger issues, and was mad at myself and could not understand why I was like this. Never thought this would happen to me. I was training and leading soldiers for war, taking care of their wellbeing. I couldn’t even take care of myself now. I was depressed because I had lost everything I trained for all these years. I couldn’t even remember what I talked about 5 min ago. I had no motivation to do anything because of my injuries, so I started gaining weight. I got it in my head that I was useless. I just wanted to self-medicate, alcohol was going to be my best friend. I even thought of ending it all.

Then one day while I was stationed at Ft. Carson, Colorado Springs, Co. a friend told me about riding a couple of hundred miles in Texas with the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) called the “Soldier Ride”. I have ridden a bike before but no more than 5-10 miles. I didn’t know what to expect from this but after talking to my friend about how his friend is benefitting from cycling, I decided to give it a try, but very skeptical. I started the ride with no experience and did not want to ask for any help because of my pride, which hurt me later throughout the ride. I had a hard time riding in a group, especially riding so close together.

A week later I was getting ready for the Texas challenge with Ride 2 Recovery (R2R) and was thinking I didn’t want to ride it. This ride was going to be a ride that will challenge me both physically and mentally all 450 miles. Riding with R2R was an experience, and one that would help me through my recovery process. Every day of the ride was a challenge because it took a lot out of me just to get on the bike each day and ride 50 to 70 miles.
I noticed that my headaches were down to a manageable level. My depression was not gone but at least by riding I could manage and overcome it. When I ride I feel free like I have no issues. It feels good to have emotions and at the same time not be so guarded. I see that I can continue with my life and be the husband and father I can try to be.
Now, nine years has passed since my accident and I am not a pro cyclist by any means but I have a great appreciation and respect for cycling.

Cycling is an important part of my recovery and rehabilitation process because it’s an activity that I can do and almost everyone can do, no matter what the disability is, mental and physical. It is an alternative form of therapy for my issues. Though it has been a slow process, the Wounded Warrior Project, Ride 2 Recovery, and Challenged Athletes Foundation have been great supporters during my rehabilitation process.
I know I will never be my old self again but at least I can be happy on two wheels and bring that happiness home to my family. Cycling is my therapy.
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