Sgt. 1st Class Doug Norman, assigned to United States Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, has been active duty for 19 years. Introduced to the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) in 2003, an organization supporting the recovery needs of injured warriors through restorative health and wellness initiatives, Norman became reengaged with the organization in 2015, when he was injured by a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) in Iraq.
“I was in rehabilitation in Bethesda, Maryland in 2015 and after years of affiliation with WWP, I was then committed as a warrior,” Norman said. “Through the years in the military, I had multiple injuries: a parachute accident and then wounds due to a RPG in Iraq. I began dealing with the effects of multiple traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and it was affecting my life.”
When trauma and military expectations confront one another, active duty Soldiers often find themselves trapped by comparison, focusing on all the things they are not capable of doing. Norman expressed his frustrations with the initial onset of difficulty he was experiencing, as he began to measure himself against other Soldiers and his inability to perform at the same level.
“Dealing with a broken back and TBIs, it started to affect my performance at work and my ability to interact with my Family,” he said. “I was introduced to adaptive cycling through the Department of Defense’s Warrior Games and Invictus Games.”
Selected to attend the Invictus Games training camp, Norman was introduced to the bike. Cycling brought him into fitness, restored Norman’s motivation and helped him shed significant weight off his existing 300-pound frame. Norman was introduced to the Soldier Rides through WWP, and then quickly, for him, any excuse to get on a bike was a good excuse. Cycling became a learning tool and a passion. It helped Norman identify his strength and the dynamic nature of the sport — providing an avenue for recovery and conditioning physical and mental wellness for Veterans.
“The Soldier Rides began positively affecting my fitness and my mind. Cycling helped with my anxiety and maintain focus at work. Things were falling into place and I was seeing results and success. I started recognizing that I was still capable,” Norman said.
Cyclists from the Florida and North Carolina branches of the WWP gathered March 20 through 23 at Fort Bragg for the Soldier Rides Skills Development Camp. Forming bonds, entangled by experience and determination, cyclists including Norman dedicated their three days to building camaraderie and an opportunity to interact with other veterans. Led by the WWP of Fayetteville and Adam Faine, Soldier Rides manager, the itinerary included loops around Pope Field between 12 to 30 miles, an estimated 43-mile long bike ride with the Cross Creek Cycling Club (C4), a bike one-on-one clinic teaching maintenance, etiquette, nutrition and training, and “skills and drills” teaching bike handling techniques and promoting community integration.
“The three day clinic provided our warriors with valuable tools in their continued road to growth. Modest changes over time can have a tremendous impact on service members health, regardless of their differences. Riders formed bonds at this event and will continue to network and support each other going forward,” Faine said.
The discipline of the sport has given Norman credence to be intentional and a personal mantra of not giving up and giving back. He pushes himself in his career and on the bike: to accomplish his longest rides to date, combat challenges with a healthy lifestyle, serve his fellow injured warriors and continues to step out of his comfort zone.
“Cycling makes me feel like I have something I can provide,” Norman said. “It gives me a sense of pride. And it is always time well spent.”