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JBLM's Soldiers, Airmen tackle Seattle to Portland's long ride

Northwest Guardian

Published: 03:55PM July 17th, 2014

There are 203 miles between the E1 Parking Lot at the University of Washington in Seattle and Holladay Park in Portland.

Rather than travel by motor vehicle, which takes about two hours, 10,000 people rode their bicycles the entire way during the 35th annual Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic on July 12.

Riders participate in the physically demanding bicycle ride for different reasons, and organizers from the Cascade Bicycle Club enjoys collecting stories shared, including those from service members from Joint Base Lewis-McChord and other local installations.

“It’s just so inspiring, and the military men and women are just another aspect of that,” said Ann Rook, communications director for Cascade Bicycle Club.

Many of the club’s stories came out of JBLM’s Warrior Transition Battalion, which has several wounded veterans in events such as STP. Service members like Master Sergeant Guy Smith said they wanted to challenge themselves and accomplish personal goals.

This year, Smith said his only goals were to complete the event during the weekend and try to maintain pace with other transition battalion riders. Smith said was in no shape to participate in any type of physical activity when he joined the battalion in 2013.

Smith suffered a series of neck, back and hip injuries from three deployments — 2004-05 and 2008-09 in Iraq, and 2012-13 in Afghanistan.

“I was feeling kind of low a year ago,” Smith said. “I felt like my body was failing me and I didn’t know why.”

Smith learned he had a heart condition that required doctors to place three stints into his heart.

Since that surgery, Smith said he found he has better blood flow, breathing and stamina.

Smith has also worked with low-impact cardiovascular exercises; like riding bikes, using an elliptical machine and anything that keeps him from pounding his back and neck.

On his own, he’s completed longer bicycle rides three times a week in preparation of the STP event.

“The spirits got better, and I started talking about all of these different events — like STP,” Smith said. “It’s a big win for me to be able to say, ‘yeah, I can do this.’”

Among the military group of riders, there are some who attempt to complete all 203 miles in one day; like Maj. John Hlavaty, of JBLM’s 7th Infantry Division. His fiancé, Jill Walsh, and her friends have done it in the past, but this was Hlavaty’s first time.

Hlavaty said he got into riding back in 2008 when he was looking for an alternative to running — similar to Smith’s story. Because he suffered shin splints, Hlavaty was seeking a way to get a cardiovascular exercise with little impact.

“The main problem with running is we don’t teach proper technique — we’re just told to run faster,” Hlavaty said. “With biking, it is a lot less pounding on the joints.”

While Hlavaty is currently able to run marathons throughout the year, his focus shifted to biking in May to prepare for the STP. He started getting up at 5 a.m. to get two and a half hours of riding in.

Although the STP is new to Hlavaty, long distance rides aren’t. He has previously completed 100-mile bicycle rides — commonly called centuries — like the annual “Hotter’N Hell Hundred Endurance Ride” in Texas, which takes place in August when temperatures reach the triple digits.

For Hlavaty, he said the appeal comes from the mechanics of the bicycle and being able to reach speeds above 40 miles per hour on a bicycle that weighs around 16 pounds. But he recommends riding for anyone at any fitness level looking to increase his or her level of fitness.

Just don’t start with the STP right off the bat, he said.

“I would recommend that before embarking on anything over 100 miles, they have to establish a knowledge and foundation,” Hlavaty said. “It takes a lot of practice, and I think my experience with triathlons and other century routes gives me an idea of what I need to do.”