As spring turns to summer, every year for the past
five years, three people get on their bicycles and ride across the
United States, visiting patients in more than 26 rehabilitation
hospitals and bringing hope and inspiration to thousands of people
facing physical challenges.
These are the riders for Amputees Across America, a cycling outreach program spanning the North American continent. As all three riders are missing a leg, this is remarkable in itself, but what makes this 58-day, 3,500-mile journey truly extraordinary is that two of these bicyclists have not ridden a bicycle in 15 years. Stopping predominantly in HealthSouth rehabilitation hospitals along the way, this Amputee Coalition of America (ACA)-trained peer counseling team visits patients recovering from physical challenges.
Organized as an annual event, Amputees Across America announced this year’s riders are Amber Johnson, Gary Summers, and Joe Sapere. The team comprises two men and one woman, with two of the riders being transtibial amputees and one a transfemoral amputee. One rider is young at 29 years, one is middle-aged at 52, and one is age 65.
As the trio departed from the HealthSouth Rehabilitation
Hospital of Tustin, California on June 5, with every turn of the
wheel and stroke of the pedal, the mantra will be repeated again
and again, “Don’t give up.” This message will be carried on the
wings of these riders and repeated 28 times in HealthSouth
rehabilitation hospitals from the shores of the Pacific to the
beaches of Vero Beach, Florida, as the team arrives there on July
About the Riders
Amber “AJ” Johnson, 29, is a below-knee amputee
as of June 3, 2003. AJ lost her leg following a nine-year year
battle to save her left ankle after a car wreck crushed both ankles
at age 17. At her high school graduation, her only goal was to walk
to get her diploma. She did. As her ankle injury became more and
more painful, she was able to do less and less. The goal of
becoming an architect vanished. The goal of being a normal, young
adult never happened.
What did happen, though, was AJ finally became tired of living
life sitting down. She decided that crawling and wheeling around
weren’t for her. She decided that she was tired of weighing 280 lb.
and watching her behind grow larger every day that she couldn’t
walk. So she decided to ask a doctor she’d never met to remove her
foot and ankle via an Ertl-type amputation.
AJ is a single mom to two wild West Highland White Terriers and
loves just waking up every morning! She hopes that her message of
being “differently abled, not disabled” is one that people of
various ability levels will remember.
Gary Summers, 52, is a left above-knee amputee.
A lifetime resident who grew up in the farming community of Mt.
Sterling, Ohio, Gary farmed with his father for 31 years and has
worked for John Deere Company the last 21 years. Gary and his wife
Trudy have a daughter Lori, a son-in-law Rich, and son Troy as well
as two step-granddaughters and a grandson.
On April 26, 2003, Gary was riding his motorcycle on a
backcountry highway when another motorcycle came at him on a curve
on the wrong side of the road, striking him head-on. After two
weeks of trying to save his leg, it had to be amputated. Four days
after Gary came home from the hospital, Raymond Francis, CP, chief
of Prosthetic Services, Ohio Willow Wood, met with him and began
the process of fitting him with a new leg. After three months of
convalescence and working to regain his health and ability to walk
again, Gary went back to work at John Deere.
His aim for riding in the Amputees Across America Bicycle trip
is to help others to regain the determination it takes to live a
fulfilling life and not stay on the sidelines waiting.
Joe Sapere is a retired Air Force colonel and a
below-the-knee amputee due to a mid-air collision with another
skydiver in February 2000.
Born in Yonkers, New York, Joe attended college at Kenyon
College in Gambier, Ohio, and entered the US Air Force in 1963. He
then spent the next 26 years flying electronic countermeasures and
fighter aircraft. Obtaining a masters degree in education in 1972
from the University of Southern California, Joe retired from the
Air Force in 1989 and began a second career in elementary school
teaching. He retired a second time in 1998, sold his house, and
traveled the countryside for the next five years in a 35-ft. fifth
An avid bicyclist, Joe spends every day riding, weather
permitting. After ten months of rehab, he returned to the sport of
skydiving on December 24, 2000, and has been active ever since.
In 2002, Joe founded Amputees Across America, and in partnership
with HealthSouth Corporation and Ohio Willow Wood, is joined each
year by other amputees to make a coast-to-coast skydiving and
bicycle trip, visiting amputees and other rehab patients in
rehabilitation hospitals along the way.