Eagle River veteran completes rugged cross-country ride

Alaska StarAugust 24, 2012 

Mike Sanders lifts his recumbent tricycle at the Continental Divide in Loveland Pass, Colo., in June, 2012.

PARKER FEIERBACH / WORLD T.E.A.M. SPORTS VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS ARCHIVE

EAGLE RIVER -- Having earned a bronze medal in the 1,500-meter run at the 2012 Warrior Games -- an athletic competition that pits U.S. service members against one another -- Eagle River's Mike Sanders is no slouch when it comes to running.

He's a heck of a cyclist, too.

Sanders, an active duty member of the U.S. Air Force, recently rode 3,700 miles across the country with 13 other disabled veterans in the World T.E.A.M. Sports' 2012 Sea to Shining Sea ride.

Veterans with disabilities ranging from blindness to loss of limbs participated in the biennial event to serve as inspiration for all people -- able-bodied and disabled alike -- to overcome life's obstacles.

This year, the group left San Francisco on May 28 and rode bicycles, hand cycles and recumbent cycles to their finishing destination of Virginia Beach, Va., on July 28. The riders crossed 14 state lines and nearly 19,000 feet of elevation.

"I enjoyed a lot of it," Sanders said. "It made you think of what was really important."

Sanders, a cancer survivor, doesn't like the negative connotation surrounding the term "disabled."

"I like the word adaptability," he said. "How can anybody say what normal is? I think normal is whatever that person thinks normal is for them."

During his trek from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean, Sanders stopped at Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis -- the same hospital he was treated at after being diagnosed with stage 4 throat cancer in Sept. 2007.

"And I don't smoke or drink" -- the two leading causes of throat cancer -- Sanders said.

Though his prognosis was bleak, Sanders is living proof to never give up. The patients going through chemotherapy at Siteman were overjoyed when Sanders visited.

"You could just see their faces light up," he said. "They were so inspired and encouraged to get back out there and do something."

Sanders pedaled every mile of the trip on his bright green recumbent tricycle. He's been riding a trike since he first competed in a recumbent race at the 2010 Warrior Games.

A recumbent trike is nothing like a bicycle, Sanders said.

"You're using your hamstrings to pull yourself," he said.

Climbing steep elevation was one of the biggest challenges, Sanders said.

The trip offered countless memories, Sanders said, but dipping his trike's tires in the Pacific with his son, Shawn, topped his list. Sanders also rode alongside a 63-year-old Vietnam veteran on a day the cyclists covered 100 miles. Despite having one leg amputated below the knee, Sanders said the man willed himself to ride every mile.

It's something Sanders said he'll never forget.

The trip was also a way for Sanders -- who is retiring from the Air Force on Sept. 1 after nearly 24 years -- to meet the people he's served.

The reception couldn't have been better. American Legion posts across the country, as well as civilians, showed their gratitude, Sanders said.

"It was those people I wanted to go out and meet," he said. "As I went across the country, I saw so much appreciation."

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