PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Aroostook County native Barbara Springer is a relative newcomer to the sport of bicycling, but the 50-year-old retired United States Army colonel is more than making up for lost time.
Springer, who grew up in Fort Fairfield, is the national director of Project Hero, a program of Ride 2 Recovery designed to provide equipment, training and support for bicycling programs at military hospitals and health centers around the country.
“Ride 2 Recovery uses cycling as part of physical and psychological rehabilitation for our active duty serving injured [military members] and veterans,” Springer said this week. “Almost anybody can participate in cycling and we specialize in adapting bikes to fit anybody’s needs.”
This weekend, Springer returns to northern Maine to participate in Ride Aroostook, a two-day, 150-mile bicycle ride in Presque Isle Aug. 10-11, and she won’t be coming alone.
Riding with her will be fellow Mainer Sandy Buckles, a retired Navy captain who in 2005 sustained serious injuries while serving in Iraq.
“She was the senior Naval officer on the ground with a multi-national force with our Army,” Springer said. “She experienced multiple blasts when she was exposed to an [improvised explosive device], mortar fire and gun shots.”
In fact, because Buckles was a senior officer, enemy forces had specifically targeted her, according to Springer.
Buckles suffered injuries to her back, knees, wrists and has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Thanks to cycling, Springer said, the wounded officer is riding a road to recovery.
“She is on a recumbent bike and rides with us,” Springer said. “Her strength has built up and so has her endurance.”
Springer said she watched Buckles go from covering just a mile or so, often with the assistance of other cyclists using a specialized “push-bar” to help her along, to riding longer distances on her own.
“I know she can do Ride Aroostook easily,” she said.
Riding has done just as much good for Buckles’ state of mind, Springer said.
“She was extremely quiet when she started with us,” she said. “Now she’s a lot more talkative.”
That just about sums up why Springer is so enthused about Ride 2 Recovery and Project Hero.
“Cycling is an activity that can build up strength and is not abusive to joints,” she said. “We ride in groups and everyone helps out so it is very good for people with psychological issues like PTSD [because] they can talk to each other and it is perfect peer-to-peer counseling.”
Springer’s rides run for seven days and the participants are together every day to allow bonding and team building.
Over those seven days, Springer says she sees real changes among the participants.
“Some will come and won’t say a peep at first but by the end of the week, they have really opened up and are laughing, socializing, [full of] self confidence and realizing they can do it,” she said. “We see such a huge transformation from day one to the end, physically, psychologically and socially.”
This past summer she took 100 recovering veterans and military personnel to ride in Italy and France, including a climb up the Alpe d’huez of Tour de France fame.
“Our service members love to have a challenge,” Springer said. “Riding a bike up Alpe d’huez was certainly a challenge.”
Springer rode in the first Ride Aroostook two years ago and is looking forward to sharing the experience with Buckles.
In fact, Springer only began riding a road seriously two years ago.
“I’m a physical therapist and the founder of Ride 2 Recovery saw me and recruited me,” she said. “I was not a cyclist at the time but they talked me into it.”
More than 100 cyclists are expected for this weekend’s ride which begins and ends each day at the University of Maine at Presque Isle.
Ride Aroostook benefits Camp Adventure, a regional summer camp directed by Cary Medical Center for youth ages 12- to 17-years-old with Type 1 diabetes.
“Everything is looking really good this year,” Bill Flagg, Director of Community Relations and Development at Cary Medical Center event director, said Wednesday. “We believe so much in this ride and what it means.”
All anyone has to do, Flagg said, is attend the closing ceremonies at Camp Adventure and see what a difference the experience has made in the lives of the participants to understand the importance of raising funds for the camp.
Also taking part this year is Olympic and world champion Nordic skier Kris Freeman who has Type 1 diabetes and who often speaks to children with diabetes on how they can achieve goals by managing the disease effectively.
To sign up for Ride Aroostook and for a schedule and routes, visit ridearoostook.org. For information, call Flagg at 498-1176.
Correction: An earlier version of this story listed Springer biked the famous Tour de France climb, Alp duez. It is actually Alpe d’huez.