Spc. Mark Gillmore, Warrior Transition Brigade, talks Wednesday with Maj. Beth Mason, Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center, while his bike is properly fitted to his body for participation in Ride 2 Recovery.

Maj. Beth Mason, Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center, reaches out to make a slight adjustment to the seat position Wednesday afternoon

Maj. Beth Mason, Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center, makes a slight adjustment to the seat position Wednesday afternoon.;

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By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Killeen Daily Herald

FORT HOOD — Maj. Beth Mason is combining her passions to help Warrior Transition Brigade soldiers.

Mason is a physical therapist at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center and an avid biker, once earning a spot on the Armed Forces Cycling Team. She is also certified as a professional bicycle fitter and is getting soldiers ready for next week’s Ride 2 Recovery by ensuring their equipment is ready for the event.

Ride 2 Recovery is a nationwide effort that gets wounded service members and veterans active through organized bicycle rides while bringing awareness to the challenges they overcome. Rides take place across the country. The “Don’t Mess With Texas Challenge” is scheduled to go from Monday to April 2. The route stretches from San Antonio to Arlington, with a stop in the Fort Hood area on March 30 and 31.

The riders are set to arrive at the Shilo Inn in Killeen between 1:30 and 4 p.m. March 30 to a crowd of supporters cheering them on. The public is invited to attend the welcome.

The riders, joined by wounded warriors from Fort Hood, will leave from III Corps headquarters the next morning and continue on their journey.

Nine local Warrior Transition Brigade soldiers recently received bicycles so they could participate in the event and begin riding to aid in their rehabilitation. Mason’s goal is to eventually fit them all, which will ensure they can ride comfortably.

Spc. Mark Gillmore visited Mason at Darnall on Wednesday for a fitting. Gillmore was serving in Iraq with the 1st Cavalry Division’s 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment in 2007 when his tank was cracked in half by a large roadside bomb.

Gillmore sustained several injuries, including a head wound, spine, vertebrae and knee damage, broken ribs and a bruised pelvis.

He was later assigned to Fort Hood’s Warrior Transition Brigade.

Gillmore couldn’t run or participate in physical training because of his injuries, but had to find a way to stay in shape so he could stay in the Army. He turned to bicycle riding, first through an organization called Independence Fund and later with Ride 2 Recovery.

Independence Fund assists severely injured service members through what it calls “Three Pillars of Support.” They are: “to provide the necessary tools and therapies that are otherwise not being provided, to fund and promote physical and leisure/athletic activities that enhance the veteran’s physical and emotional well-being” and advocacy and case management.

Gillmore said he chose to ride with organizations that provided tangible benefits to those who needed it. He can ride alongside soldiers and Marines who went through the same things he did.

Gillmore recalled meeting a Marine with severe traumatic brain injury who was bound to a wheelchair because he had no balance. Independence Fund provided that Marine with an iBOT that allowed him to stand and look at others at eye level for the first time since he was injured. Gillmore said he sees people who are worse off than him and he asks himself, “What can I do to make him better?”

Gillmore still experiences pain as a result of his injuries, but Mason was able to make future rides more comfortable by adjusting the handlebars and seat of his bicycle.

Mason works with Warrior Transition Brigade soldiers daily as the unit therapist and said those soldiers have a bigger need for fitted bicycles. Most people can function fine with a bicycle adjusted for general riders, Mason said.

However, “nobody in the WTU is most people,” she said. Because of the injuries and pain that sent soldiers into the Warrior Transition Brigade, they tend to have more body awareness than others. The chronic pain many of them experience puts them more in tune with what is or isn’t comfortable.

Even minor adjustments, like the millimeters Mason made to Gillmore’s seat, can be felt. She watched him closely as he pedaled his bicycle on a stationary stand and then carefully made alterations with a set of wrenches.

“Oh heck yeah, that’s a heck of a lot better,” Gillmore exclaimed after getting back on.

“That’s what I look for,” Mason said. “Somebody saying, ‘heck yeah.'”