2023.0720 Michael Brooks NEWS

My Road to Riding RAGBRAI

By: Michael Brooks

My road to riding the RAGBRAI started a long time ago.

I didn’t take fitness or sports seriously until I joined the Army after high school. In the Army, I didn’t have a choice; we ran every day. It was a part of the job. During my 21 years in the Army, I had two bad accidents while parachuting with the 82nd Airborne Division. The first left me with a traumatic brain injury. I went for years without proper medical care for the mental health issues that accompany brain injuries. The second, which included a 25-foot fall from a tree. That fall left my body so broken, I developed severe early-onset arthritis in many of my joints. I retired from the Army in 2001 and set aside physical fitness for several years. I was too busy working as a production plant supervisor and running my furniture repair business.

During this time, I finally got help for the depression and anxiety that resulted from my TBI. Transcranial magnetic stimulation was the only thing that worked for me, and it made my life so much better.

With my improved mental health, I decided to take up cycling. One day in 2017, while riding at Pocahontas State Park, I crashed and cracked my C7 vertebra. I recovered and the doctor cleared me to ride again. Later the same year, I hit a tree going 17 miles an hour, and was knocked out for 30 minutes with no one knowing where I was or what happened to me. These added head injuries compromised my balance, and my doctor told me I could no longer ride two-wheeled bikes.

I thought my cycling career was over, but in 2019, the Veteran’s Administration provided me a recumbent tricycle. That is when my true athletic journey began. I took that tricycle to a Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) event and met a group of fellow veterans who had also been injured while in service. Many of them had become high-performance athletes and I knew I wanted to be a part of that world.

It took more than wanting it for it to become reality. I remember the first time I rode my recumbent tricycle. It wasn’t going as fast as I was accustomed to on my two-wheeled bike. I thought, “Where is the speed?” I wanted to go fast! Then I realized it wasn’t the bike, it was me. That’s when I started my quest to be faster and that’s when Sportable stepped in.

It was 2020 and I was looking for a weekly ride and a group to help me increase my speed. The V.A. referred me to Sportable. I started off riding recreationally with Sportable and then Coach Lucille invited me to join Sportable’s competitive cycling team. Both programs gave me a wonderful group of people to ride with, excellent coaching, and encouragement. To this day, the rides with Sportable give me something to look forward to each week.

Sportable really helped me ratchet up my speed and my endurance. At my first race, Conquer the Canal in Chesapeake, I averaged just under 14 miles an hour. Just last weekend, I finished the Franklin Inferno, clocking an average speed of 19.2 miles per hour. That was a personal best for me! I’ve completed eight races so far this year and I ride four days a week.

Working with Sportable, I realized if it’s to be, it’s up to me. My job is to put my butt in the seat and turn my feet in little circles. When you turn your feet in little circles, you will get to all kinds of places you never dreamed of.

Just a few years ago, if you had told me I’d be riding RAGBRAI, I would have said you’re crazy. I rode it for the first time in 2021 and I can’t wait to ride it again with my Sportable friends. It’s a celebration of America, like the Fourth of July in each of the 34 towns we pass through. Corn on the cob on the side of the road, townspeople selling pies, and the local VFW selling beers. It’s a feel-good experience and it lasts for seven days.

I want everyone to see the smile on Hunter’s and Lucille’s faces when they complete the RAGRAI for the first time. Whether it’s a ride or a race, you don’t have to win to be happy. You are happy when you push yourself and do your best. You must try something. It brings out an inner joy when you succeed at the attempt. Even if you don’t succeed, you think, “I wish I did better, but I was happy I was here!”

Sportable athlete Michael Brooks, Competitive Cycling Head Coach Lucille O’Neil, and CEO Hunter Leemon are embarking on RAGBRAI and riding 500 miles across Iowa next week to raise $10,000 for Sportable. Join their epic adventure virtually by setting your own walking, running, pushing, or cycling goal and help raise funds for adaptive sports in RVA.

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