Local News

Fayetteville man, other wounded veterans cycling in France

Posted June 29, 2011 6:46 a.m. EDT

— A Fayetteville man once confined to a wheelchair is joining nearly 150 other wounded veterans Wednesday as they travel to France to take part in Ride 2 Recovery, a cycling event that hopes to improve the mental and physical health of injured servicemen.

Sergeant First Class Justin Minyard has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, helped catch Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders, escorted presidents and worked a first responder on 9/11, spending days digging through rubble at the Pentagon looking for survivors and buried remains.

But while rescuing others, he herniated two discs in his lower back, which deteriorated to the point that he could no longer walk.

Confined to a wheelchair, Minyard had three back surgeries in a year ending with fused vertebrae, a titanium cage and rods in his lower back. During his physical recovery, he also underwent intense cognitive rehabilitation for traumatic brain injuries and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Minyard can now walk short distances but primarily gets around on a Segway. He first participated in a Ride 2 Recovery Challenge in May 2010, when he was still suffering with back pain, as well as brain injuries and PTSD.

Minyard has been riding a custom-fit recumbent trike for exercise, something he enjoyed prior to his injuries.

“For me, getting on the bike and riding 20 miles in much more effective than any medicine, any prescription that the doctor could give me," he said. "It's a giant stress-reliever."

Minyard says he participates in events like Ride 2 Recovery to raise awareness about soldiers coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan with life-changing injuries.

"I hope that if one injured veteran can see me participate in these events, it will inspire him or her to pursue rehabilitative care and attempt to regain independence and the ability to engage and persevere in daily life despite the injuries suffered," he said. "I have regained self esteem, personal motivation and desire to live my life to the fullest despite my injuries sustained serving my country.”

While in France, the group of riders – which includes 121 wounded warriors and veterans of Vietnam or World War II – will visit important World War II sites, culminating on July 8 in a ride to arrive at the finish of Stage 6 of the 2011 Tour de France.

The wounded warriors are connecting via five American Airlines U.S. hub cities for the flight to France: Dallas-Fort Worth, Chicago, Boston, New York City and Miami.