ABOVE: Kenneth Holman and members of the Paralyzed Veterans of America’s Mid-Atlantic chapter.
A life-changing event at Pocahontas State Park is attracting veterans from all across the country. They will handcycle through the wooded trails from Friday, Sept. 28, through Sunday, Sept. 30, as part of a handcycling clinic.
“Watching them being out there with family and friends outdoors doing what they love, that’s what it’s all about … things we build that are accessible and inclusive makes for a better community,” said Jennifer Purser, executive director of Paralyzed Veterans of America’s Mid-Atlantic chapter.
Among the participants is Chester resident Kenneth Holman. Although the situation was devastating, Holman said he remained optimistic, despite injuries to his spine.
“I was still alive To me, I had hope,” he said, adding that he deleted the word “can’t” from his vocabulary. “You just have to find a different way of doing the same things,” he said.
Handcycles make it feasible for those with spinal cord injuries to participate in the sport, but because they’re propelled by arms, Holman had to overcome an additional obstacle.
“Since I had paralysis in my arm, a handcycle was a challenge to me,” he said. “But ‘no’ is not acceptable. This was an opportunity to work and develop. It increased my confidence in my ability, and once I did it, I wanted to do it again.”
Now, Holman is an avid racer.
The handcycle trail at Pocahontas State Park was built a few years ago. The Paralyzed Veterans of America Mid-Atlantic chapter held its first handcyling event there last year, and invited veterans and all those with disabilities.
This year’s event is expected to attract even more participants.
“It means a lot to ride my handcycle,” chapter board member and veteran Rickey Wood said. “I used to ride a regular bike, but I can’t anymore. This event is exhilarating. Being out there is a feat in itself.”
“You have to give it to the park,” Purser said. “The park is amazing. They’ve really helped to maintain these trails. And they’re all about accessibility, so a person with a disability can be there.”
“Exuberant” is how Holman describes his feelings about racing on the trails in his handcycle. “The thrill veterans experience being on the trails that in times past was off limits … Just to get back into what they enjoy and to see the joy in their faces, plus the camaraderie is important for veterans.”
Wood agrees. “The event motivates me and puts me in contact with other people with similar injuries or situations,” he said. “We help each other out there.”
Thanks to volunteers and corporate sponsors, the handcycling event is a success, Purcer said. She’s hoping an permanent accessible bathroom can be built on the handcycle trail for athletes to use year-round.
“Our mission is to be a supportive community for capable heroes,” Purser said. “Anything we can do to make it easier, that’s what we’re all about.”
Those wishing to help can go to www.pvamidatlantic.org or call (804) 378-0017.