A crowd of wounded soldiers recently lined up in front of a registration booth during the U.S. Army Trials at Fort Bliss, Texas. One soldier, wearing a black shirt with the words “Wounded Warrior (some assembly required)” printed in white on his shirt, waited anxiously to pick up his bib number and registration papers.
As soon as he wheeled out from behind the registration table, it became clear that he was missing his legs.
As he headed to the pre-staging area for bicycles and handcycles, the crowd’s eyes followed him. He got out of his wheelchair and sat on the ground beside a handcycle and started checking every part of it. He mounted the handcycle and began warming up.
Sgt. Stefan Leroy, a handcyclist, is a wounded warrior with the Walter Reed Warrior Transition Unit in Bethesda, Maryland. Leroy, a former cavalry scout, lost both his legs at the age of 21.
On June 7, 2012, during a patrol in Afghanistan, two of Leroy’s friends were hit by two different improvised explosive devices (IEDs). “I was carrying one of them to a helicopter, and I stepped on the third IED of the day,” said Leroy. “I lost my left leg from above my knee and my right leg below the knee.”
Three months later, he started cycling to stay fit and motivated.
“It’s mainly because I didn’t want to be sitting down and not doing anything,” said Leroy. “My dad is a big cyclist…. He was able to do it with me, and that made me more dedicated than I would have been otherwise.”
Cycling with his father led him to take his new sport further. “As a cyclist, this introduces me into something a little different; I’ve never actually done the time trial,” said Leroy.
As part of his recovery program at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Leroy now cycles long-distance courses ranging from 50 to 90 miles a day. The time trial is Leroy’s first time competing on a short-distance course.
“I’m pretty good in long distance. I can beat a lot of people, but I’ve never really taken a short course before,” said Leroy. “My shortest course ever was 13 miles, and that was a sprint the whole way through, so this course is six miles total, and it’s definitely going to be a sprint.”
The smaller course posed a new challenge to Leroy, but like the rest of his previous challenges in life, he was eager to take it on.
“It will be interesting to see how well I do in this,” said Leroy.
He then sprinted to third place with a total time of 23 minutes and 53 seconds after the 11-kilometer course.
It was a new challenge for Leroy, but not a new excuse.
“Keep doing what you can do right now,” he said. “If you keep pushing yourself right now and maintaining that fitness level, you’ll be able to transition into something more that you’d want to do.”
This article was adapted from an original story by Spc. Maricris C. Cosejo.