An Oxfordshire man who was told he would never walk again after suffering life-threatening injuries in a bike crash in the Pyrenees less than three years ago yesterday embarked on a journey that will see him cycle from coast to coast across the United States with the aim of raising millions of pounds for ex-service personnel charities on both sides of the Atlantic.
Retired US serviceman Tom Von Kaenel’s Sea2Sea ride began yesterday at RAF Brize Norton, a few miles from his home in Freeland, Oxfordshire, with the first leg of his trip taking him to London Heathrow Airport, from where he is due to catch a flight to Washington, DC today.
After spending three days in the American capital during which he will publicise the ride, Von Kaenel will take part in a Soldiers Ride on Saturday in Annapolis, Maryland on behalf of the Wounded Warriors Project, before flying to Seattle, Washington, where his transcontinental ride will begin next Monday. He aims to arrive back in Washington, DC, after more than 4,000 miles in the saddle, at sunrise on the Fourth of July.
His trip won’t quite be over – he’ll finally climb of his bike back at RAF Brize Norton on 8 July after flying back to the UK.
The prospect of Von Kaenel undertaking such a ride would have seemed impossible two and a half years ago, as he began his recovery from a crash while cycling in the Pyrenees that left him with a fractured eye socket, broken pelvis and dislocated hip, spending more than two weeks in intensive care. Due to his previous service in the US Military, Von Kaenel managed to obtain a transfer to the US Landstuhl Regional Military Hospital in Germany, where he underwent a series of life-saving operations.
In a blog post for First Command Financial Services, one of his sponsors, and republished on the Military Times website, Von Kaenel said of his time at the hospital in Germany: “It was like being in a shrine – the holiest place I’ve ever been to. I was in the trauma ward with soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan. It just struck me, the concentrated effort being put forth to get these people well. And, I said right there that I’m going to learn to walk again and get back on my bike and tell this story. I really feel it’s my quest.”
There was still another life-threatening hurdle for him to overcome, after he contracted MSRA which saw him admitted to hospital again, this time the John Radcliffe in Oxford, to have the metal plates that had been inserted inside him removed.
That set his recovery back, but with the help of professionals including Revolution Sports Injuries Clinic in Wantage, Oxfordshire, which includes his case study on its website, he was back on his bike and riding in the mountains again last summer.
Von Kaenel is aiming to raise $10 million for the American charity Wounded Warriors Project, and £5 million for the UK’s Help For Heroes during his ride, and cyclists are invited to join him for parts of the journey. Full details available on the Sea2Sea website, while the cyclist has also produced a video in which he talks about the ride.
During his journey, he will be supported by Britsih retired entrepreneur Bruce Hammersley, who initially signed up as trip photographer but has since seen his role expand well beyond that, including driving the recreational vehicle that will follow Von Kaenel.
His route will take Von Kanael’s through the American Midwest and down to South Carolina before he heads up to Washington, DC, riding an average of 63 miles a day. Along the way he will be giving talks to community groups and schools, as well as visiting military bases and hospitals, and he’ll also be speaking at events including the Country Music Awards in Nashville, Tennessee.
“No matter what happens, I’ll be at Arlington Cemetery on July 4,” he told First Command. “We’ll make the date. You can count on that.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.