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Sea to shining sea

Parker Feierbach, Special to the Daily
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VAIL, Colorado – Bill Czyzewski lost part of his left leg from a Vietnam War wound, and now he’s finally getting a biker’s-eye view of the country he fought for.

Czyzewski is part of World T.E.A.M. Sports’ Sea to Shining Sea bicycle ride.

“When I left Vietnam in the 1970s, I decided I’d like to see what I fought for,” Czyzewski said.



After decades, he’s getting his look.

Czyzewski is one of several wounded warriors from the U.S. military on this cross-country bicycle ride that came through Vail a few days ago.

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They started May 28, Memorial Day, with their back tires in the Pacific Ocean in San Francisco. They’ll finish July 28 with their front tires in the Atlantic in Virginia Beach, Va.

Czyzewski, 63, is the only Vietnam veteran in the group.

“I’m riding for the memory of the 58,000 names on a black wall in Washington, D.C.,” Czyzewski said.



He fought in Vietnam in 1969-70, with the 11th Armored Division. He was hit, leaving his left leg a bloody pulp.

He tried for six years to save the leg but finally elected to have it amputated below the knee.

The man is secure in ways that only those who have been to hell and back can be.

He wears shorts and rides a pink hand cycle that weighs about 30 pounds.

“We’re showing that whether disabilities can be seen or not, we’re still alive,” Czyzewski said.

Czyzewski was at an air show in West Virginia presented by the 167th Air National Guard. A friend showed up with a hand cycle, and Czyzewski asked Veterans Affairs for one. It took a year.

He started out on a running track at a local school, three miles each day and three more miles each night. He bumped it up to six miles in a few weeks and, before long, was riding a 23-mile rail/trail path.

He was surfing the Web for information on veterans programs when he stumbled onto World T.E.A.M. Sports. He knew he’d found his crew.

He got serious about his training, but he said he still wondered if he’d lost his mind.

“I was flying from Washington, D.C., to California to start this ride and I was asking myself, ‘Can we talk about this one more time?'” he said, laughing.

He asked himself, and the answer was to get on his bike and ride.

“It’s given me strength. I feel more alive,” Czyzewski said. “The goal is to make it to Virginia Beach and be one of the first ones in the water with my bicycle over my head.”

It’s two months and 3,698 miles, and there are days they don’t want anything to do with bicycles.

“There are days you don’t want to get on it,” Czyzewski said. “But we do and we’re always glad we did.”

They’ve seen some amazing places. The desert is everything you’d want your desert to be. The mountains are mountainous, and Americans are generally a great group of humans.

They rolled into Meeker, for example, and no one knew they were coming. In less than three hours, the Ladies Auxiliary with the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars had dinner on the table.

They rolled through Vail last week, staying at the Evergreen hotel.

World T.E.A.M. Sports is a national nonprofit organization that creates events for disabled and able-bodied participants.

This year’s ride includes disabled veterans who participated in wars from Vietnam and Bosnia to Iraq and Afghanistan.

First held in 2010, the Sea to Shining Sea ride features 14 wounded warriors. They’ll ride 3,698 miles across 14 states and the District of Columbia. Other wounded warriors will ride segments of the ride, for a few days to a few weeks.

“We’re raising awareness about labeling disabilities,” said Mike Claver, ride director. “Some look at these people and write them off.”

They’re combat survivors, cancer survivors and, well, survivors. Some are blind; a couple are going blind.

Joe Frank broke a bone when he flew over his handlebars, got some pins in it and was back on his bike the next day.

But that’s nothing for Frank. He was one week from graduating Navy Seal training when he was run down by a drunk driver. He’s back on his feet but not back in the Seals.

He figured he has two choices: be bitter and resentful or live while he’s living.

He said, as he got on his bike and left Vail headed toward Virginia, he’s choosing life.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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