16 September, 2006

Soldier Ride, part IV

Part I: Tears and smiles and the amazing cyclists
Part II: The brotherhood and the bigwigs
Part III: An extraordinary Marine

The entire event was heart-breaking, inspirational, joyous, poignant, and just about every other emotion all at once. But on a personal level the most touching moment for me was my encounter with Soldier Ride's Executve Director, Steve Nardizzi.

As the event was winding down, Da Goddess mentioned that she would relish the opportunity to travel with the cyclists at next year's event as nurse for the team, providing any emergency first-aid and the other day-to-day medical care the riders need. Since she was busy with other things, I told her I'd go find Nardizzi and try to bring him over to her.

I found Nardizzi at the edge of the knot of people still enjoying the barbeque and plopped down in the sand in front of him. I told him how glad I was that the Soldier Ride program had been created. I told him that it was a joy to see the amputees doing so well, since with Valour-IT we're focused more on the time just after they are wounded, providing the laptop as a kind of psychological first aid. He knew about Valour-IT and so I told him how I'd cried when I saw the riders missing arms because I realized I was seeing in the flesh the other end of recovery, what we hoped and dreamed for them when we handed them a voice-activated laptop in their hospital bed. "The laptop is all about coping at the time, about showing them they are still a part of the world, that they can still function though they're reeling from their inuries." He started to grin and nod enthusiastically. "But what you're doing here is all about the future, showing them that literally anything is possible, that they are going to be active, and creative and do amazing things, that the world is still their oyster. That is so awesome to see."

I tried not to tear up, and I think his eyes glistened, too.

"Absolutely," he said. We just sat there looking at each other and grinning. No more words were necessary--our mutual joy at what we'd seen that day was written on our faces. It was so wonderful to see reflected in him the mixture of emotions I'd felt that day, and the combination of pride and humility we both felt from being involved with these amazing warriors. I knew as I looked at him that we both knew why the other did what we did for the wounded, that our hearts felt the same, that we were driven by the same things.

Sitting there as we just looked at each oher, I felt like I'd found a kindred spirit. He knew why I do what I do, how it felt to see a dream for others come to fruition, how I could feel such joy and sadness at the same time... He both "got it," and we never had to say a word about it to know that. After spending the last few years in such relative isolation, to meet someone who so completely understood was a breath of fresh air through my soul.

Surprisingly, he didn't know about MilBlogs, so I told him, and suggested that would be a great way to bring more attention to Soldier Ride's cycling clinics and raise money for next year's cross-country event. I told him to contact Matt and Greyhawk; I hope he does/has because Soldier Ride is an amazing program that should get as much financial and public support as possible. I saw first-hand that day the program's ability to inspire and speed the recovery of the amputees involved.

One final bit: while I was running around talking to people, Da Goddess was sitting and talking to Matthew Modine's agent, who was sitting next to Modine at a table that had been set up to sign copies of his book (he was selling them for $100, with all proceeds going to Soldier Ride). I would keep coming back to Da Goddess to tell her something or check on whether or not she was ready to go. As I had done all day, I pretty much ignored Modine [see Part II for my oblivious conversation about him that he overheard]. I was glad he was there since I knew the soldiers loved him and after his speech and interactions with the cyclists I respected his down-to-earth support for them, but celebrity in general does not turn my head. I mean, we didn't know each other and I wasn't a huge fan, so what did it matter that I kept walking past him?

Apparently he'd picked up on my indifference; I suspect he wasn't used to being ignored, haha! (although I did at one point and ask him how many books he'd sold, I know I didn't show a hint of being impressed by the opportunity to converse with him). About the third or fourth time I dropped by the table to talk to Joanie, he stopped me and asked if I was a Soldiers' Angel. Before I could begin to answer, Da Goddess whipped out a Valour-IT business card and told him all about it. He promptly pulled out a book and asked my name. And so, I had a souvenir from Soldier Ride. I'm not going to hyperventilate over the idea that Matthew Modine(!) gave me a personally-autographed book, but I saw enough of him to know his support for the wounded is serious, and so I appreciate his gift as a mark of our mutual concern. He had made a fan of me that day, long before he gave me a book.