double amputee, bike rider.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)
Illinois Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth inspired the lunch crowd at the National Women’s Bicycling Forum today. Rep. Duckworth isn’t well-known in the bicycle advocacy world, but as a double amputee and Iraq war veteran who also enjoys riding a hand cycle, no one in this room will soon forget her story.
Rep. Duckworth, a helicopter pilot in the Iraq War who suffered major wounds in combat, shared with the crowd that bicycling is her “avenue forward.” When you’re out pumping pedals on the bike, she said, “You feel powerful, you feel strong, you feel in command of something again.” From someone who lost both of her legs and suffered damage to one of her arms, those words are a testament to bicycling.
With her $5,000 hand cycle she received from the Veteran’s Administration, Duckworth said she’s experienced the freedom and shared experience that many of us take for granted. Bicycling, she said, is a great “leveler.”
Duckworth thanked the advocates in the room for their work in making America more bike-friendly, but she also urged that they should do more to be inclusive to those with disabilities. “There are still barriers,” she explained, and then told a story about wanting to go to some local bike shops in Washington DC that weren’t wheelchair accessible. “For lack of a $50 plywood ramp, shops are missing out on customers.” She expanded on that perspective by urging bike groups to remember people in their communities that are veterans and/or have disabilities. “Bring those veterans into your bike clubs,” she said. “There are a lot of VFW and Legion posts that are looking for service projects… Work with them on a bike trail project to make it have disabled access.’
Duckworth’s main theme was that bringing veterans and disabled riders into the fold is about looking out for one another. “A lot of this is about community,” she said, “If you’re constantly being dropped [on group rides], you’re going to drop out of the cycling lifestyle.”