Cross-country riders make stop in capital |

Cross-country riders make stop in capital

by F.T. Norton
F.T. Norton/Nevada AppealClay Rankin talks with another cyclist outside of the Capitol on Friday a week into their two month cross-country trek to Virginia Beach, Va.

A wave of red, white and blue determination washed into Carson City an hour ahead of schedule Friday.

The Sea to Shining Sea Bike Ride across America was scheduled to stop at the Capitol at 4 p.m., but as biker Nicolette Maroulis pointed out, that last bit of road from Lake Tahoe was all downhill.

“It made it really easy,” the freckled Navy veteran said as a Nevada sun crept out briefly from behind rain clouds and Gov. Jim Gibbons posed for photos with some of the 20 riders.

Before leaving San Francisco on May 22 on a 4,000 mile journey to Virginia Beach, Va., the group, comprised mostly of veterans disabled in war, dipped their back tires in the Pacific Ocean. At the other end they’ll dip their front tires in the Atlantic.

The goal is to prove that disabled Americans can lead productive lives and accomplish seemingly insurmountable feats.

Maroulis, 33, who spent three years in a wheelchair, is able to walk now after a 2003 injury when she was a K9 handler.

But the pain in her legs makes her unable to pedal long distances, so Maroulis has taken on the challenge of making the journey on a hand cycle.

“I’m pretty new to all of this. I spent three years in the hospital and had to learn how to walk, so I spent quite a long time in the wheelchair. But I built up from atrophy and I have muscle density. It’s just a matter now of getting the pain under control,” she said.

The ride is just a detour from 26-year-old Chad Jukes’ passion: rock climbing. Despite losing his right leg below to the knee to an injury in Iraq in 2006, the Salt Lake City native has plans to take on Lobuche, a 20,000-foot Nepalese mountain, in September.

Jukes’ uncle and cousin, Chuck and Jacob Blackett of Sparks, came down to greet him.

Clay Rankin, 48, served in both Gulf Wars and returned home from Iraq in 2004 with severe back and brain injuries as well as PTSD.

While he can power his recumbent bike with his legs, he has difficulty with walking and balance.

“They put me on that bike and they have to help me get into the bike, and get my legs and strap them in, but once that’s done, I’m independent. It’s my legs that make it move,” said Rankin of West Virginia.

Rankin said his reasons for joining the ride were personal. But he also saw it as a lesson for others, namely the disabled veterans he works with as an advocate for the Army Wounded Warrior program.

“I wanted to go on this to heal, cleanse, accomplish and hopefully demonstrate to other people that there is life after disability. It’s been very exciting and everybody helps everybody out and we just push through it. You push through the pain, you push through the agony and you reach the goal,” he said.

“I’m just a guy. I don’t want to know the route. I don’t want to know the terrain, just put someone in front of me and I’ll pedal one pedal at a time as far as I possibly can until my body gives out. I don’t see that happening, though. And if this old disabled fart can do it, anybody can.”