Cycling helps wounded warriors' quality of life, coach says

Photo by Andrea Howry / Lighthouse
Retired GMC Hector Varela, who lives in Temecula, gets ready for a morning of training at Naval Base Ventura County, Port Hueneme. Varela was one of eight Navy-Coast Guard cyclists attending a Jan. 10-14 training camp for the upcoming Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Photo by Andrea Howry / Lighthouse Retired GMC Hector Varela, who lives in Temecula, gets ready for a morning of training at Naval Base Ventura County, Port Hueneme. Varela was one of eight Navy-Coast Guard cyclists attending a Jan. 10-14 training camp for the upcoming Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Photos by Andrea Howry / Lighthouse
Members of the Navy-Coast Guard cycling team that will compete in the upcoming Warrior Games make their way down Patterson Road during a training session Saturday, Jan. 12.

Photos by Andrea Howry / Lighthouse Members of the Navy-Coast Guard cycling team that will compete in the upcoming Warrior Games make their way down Patterson Road during a training session Saturday, Jan. 12.

Photo by Andrea Howry / Lighthouse
Ensign Laura Root, stationed at the Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington, D.C., clips her foot into the pedal at the starting line as mechanic Jared Shavelson holds her steady. Shavelson works in a bike shop in Burbank and traveled with Coach Rick Babbington, who lives in nearly Sunland, to the training camp.

Photo by Andrea Howry / Lighthouse Ensign Laura Root, stationed at the Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington, D.C., clips her foot into the pedal at the starting line as mechanic Jared Shavelson holds her steady. Shavelson works in a bike shop in Burbank and traveled with Coach Rick Babbington, who lives in nearly Sunland, to the training camp.

Coach Rick Babington of Sunland watches the approaching riders. A former speed skater, he got into cycling as a cross-training technique. He has been with the U.S. Paralympic program since 2005 and the Navy’s wounded warrior program since 2010.

Coach Rick Babington of Sunland watches the approaching riders. A former speed skater, he got into cycling as a cross-training technique. He has been with the U.S. Paralympic program since 2005 and the Navy’s wounded warrior program since 2010.

Coach Rick Babington points out the water bottles marking 40 meters and 80 meters to HM3 Angelo Anderson of Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Va. Anderson, who was shot twice in the legs in Afghanistan in 2010, now competes in the 30K, an 18.6-mile ride to the finish line.

Coach Rick Babington points out the water bottles marking 40 meters and 80 meters to HM3 Angelo Anderson of Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Va. Anderson, who was shot twice in the legs in Afghanistan in 2010, now competes in the 30K, an 18.6-mile ride to the finish line.

Ready to ride, Lt. j.g. Tim Kraynack of Naval Hospital Bremerton, Wash., watches his fellow teammates prepare for a day of training.

Ready to ride, Lt. j.g. Tim Kraynack of Naval Hospital Bremerton, Wash., watches his fellow teammates prepare for a day of training.

For Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Angelo Anderson, cycling is enjoyable and challenging.

“Third-grade honest truth: I like it,” he said. “I like the physical aspect of it — the stamina, the discipline. You’re in the same stance for a long period of time, and you have to concentrate on it, focus on it, to finish the race.”

Retired Chief Gunner’s Mate Hector Varela, who lives in Temecula, likes being outside on the city streets and concrete bike trails.

“I used to mountain bike before my injury,” he said, “so this gets me back out on the road.”

Anderson, Varela and six others are among the 11 members of the Navy-Coast Guard cycling team that will compete in May in the Warrior Games, which pits wounded, ill and injured members of the armed forces against one another in U.S. Paralympic-style competitions.

On an unusually chilly Saturday morning, the cyclists gathered at Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC) Port Hueneme to practice sprinting. During the Jan. 11-13 training camp, they would also work on drafting and endurance.

Anyone driving by 23rd Avenue and Patterson Road that Jan. 12 would have seen the riders on half a dozen standard bicycles, one recumbent bike and two hand cycles. The tandem wasn’t there; it is ridden by a visually impaired athlete and piloted by a sighted cyclist. Neither person was at the camp.

The cyclists’ coach, Rick Babington, lined up water bottles along the sidewalk every 40 meters so cyclists could work on their sprints.

“From the starting line, get as much speed as you can by the first water bottle and make sure you’re in the right gear by the time you get there,” he said. “Then push, push, push! Get that speed up!”

Babington began coaching the Navy-Coast Guard athletes at the end of 2010, the same time NBVC held its first training camp. A former speed skater who got into cycling as a cross-training technique, he began coaching cycling in 1999 and has worked with the U.S. Paralympic team since 2005.

“Cycling is a sport you can do as a lifestyle,” he said. “You can do it for the rest of your life in some form.”

Both Varela and Anderson learned how to adapt after their injuries.

Varela lost a leg in a motorcycle accident last February and now uses a hand cycle.

Anderson, who’s stationed at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Va., was shot in Afghanistan in 2010 and suffered severe lower-body injuries. Gradually, he made his way back to an upright bicycle and competed with it in the Warrior Games last year, slowing down in the last lap to help a troubled teammate make it across the finish line.

Babington has seen the sport improve the quality of life for many of the athletes he works with.

“I see it here at the camps and at the Warrior Games, and I know it helps them back home,” he said. “Whether you compete or not is irrelevant. As my chiropractor friend says, ‘Movement is medicine.’”

He has seen wounded warriors with post-traumatic stress disorder get into an almost meditative state while cycling.

“The repetitive movement of the bike can do that,” he explained. “Some become a whole different person when riding.”

© 2013 Ventura County Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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