Blesma Injured Veterans Race Across America RAAM Training New Forest CREDIT Blesma
Blesma members train before heading off to the US for Race Across America (Picture: Blesma).
Veterans

Race Across America: Injured veterans take on epic 3,000-mile cycle across US

Blesma Injured Veterans Race Across America RAAM Training New Forest CREDIT Blesma
Blesma members train before heading off to the US for Race Across America (Picture: Blesma).

Race Across America is considered to be one of the world's toughest endurance cycling races – but that is not putting off a team of 18 limbless and injured service personnel from taking part.

The team of cycling veterans has been put together by military charity Blesma – founded in the aftermath of the First World War, during which 40,000 British men lost a limb.

The charity offers lifetime support to veterans who have lost a limb, the use of a limb or their sight, enabling them to lead independent and fulfilling lives. 

The Blesma team will take on the Race Across America (RAAM) – a 3,081-mile race from California to Maryland – which will push the competitors to their physical and mental limit as they must cross 12 states, travel over three major mountain ranges and climb 175,000ft.

Blesma Injured Veterans Race Across America RAAM Training New Forest CREDIT Blesma
Two Blesma members train before heading off to the US (Picture: Blesma).

By taking on this epic race, Blesma hopes to push the boundaries of its members taking part and show others that they too can overcome adversity and achieve what might, at first, seem unattainable. 

One person who has benefited from the help Blesma offers is Matt Edwards, a Royal Marine Commando veteran who served for 15 years all over the world on peacekeeping missions and frontline military operations. 

A military training accident in 2017 left Matt so severely injured that he faced two options – to use a wheelchair and be on pain medication for life or have his lower left leg amputated.

The former Royal Marine chose amputation in August 2019. 

Blesma Injured Veterans Race Across America RAAM Training New Forest CREDIT Blesma
Blesma members train before heading to the US for Race Across America (Picture: Blesma).

Before starting the 2022 Race Across America, Matt spoke about this dark time in his life, saying: "I can honestly say hearing the word 'amputation' is the hardest thing I have ever had to deal with in my lifetime.

"Suddenly, I had to create my own mission status, I had to learn to walk again, whilst trying to keep my mental health in a positive state."

It was while Matt was recovering from the operation that he found Blesma and learned about the charity's ambition to form a team to take on the Race Across America.

These plans were scuppered in 2020 when COVID-19 delayed the race for competitors outside the US but, three years later, the team is ready. 

Blesma members Wil Browning, Dan Richards, Alex Krol, Luke Delahunty, John Williams, Grant Jenkins, Simon Khan and Matt Edwards will make up the team's cyclists.

The support crew will be Ken De Soyza, Steven Williams, Terry Morgan, Michael Preater, Richard Parker, and Michael Mitchell.  

Blesma Outreach Officer Jas Suller and volunteers Marc Roffey, Benjamin Beatty and Liana Finlayson will also be assisting the team, which embarks on the adventure on 18 June.

Blesma Injured Veterans Race Across America RAAM Group Photo CREDIT Blesma
A group photo of the Blesma members taking on the Race Across America challenge (Picture: Blesma).

Event captain Wil Browning said the team members have been working hard and sticking to their training, saying: "We had to adapt and learn to live with so much uncertainty but lived with the belief that, one day, RAAM would happen. 

"Everyone has worked hard. It's a massive challenge. 

"We will visit some dark places and will have to dig deep emotionally to pull through. 

"We are also back living in a forces exercise environment which we haven't felt since leaving the forces. 

"We all share a nervous excitement," he added.

Blesma Injured Veterans Race Across America RAAM Close Up Bike Prosthetic Limb CREDIT Blesma
A closer look at one of the cyclist's prosthetic leg (Picture: Blesma).

The race will take the cyclists across incredibly varied terrain and the change in conditions will be part of the challenge. 

Those who take part will travel across the Sierra, Rocky and Appalachian mountain ranges and cross four of America's longest rivers – Colorado, Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio – and the Great Plains. 

The route will take them through iconic landmarks such as the Mojave and Sonoran deserts, Monument Valley and Gettysburg. 

Previous years have seen Race Across America teams, both military and civilian, amateur and professional, enduring all kinds of weather, including torrential rain and scorching heat, with temperatures sometimes reaching 45°C. 

This intense event is not for the faint-hearted. 

It is 30% longer than the Tour de France and, once the teams start, there are no rest days and they have a maximum of nine days to complete it. 

In 2017, Help for Heroes cyclists finished the race in six days, 12 hours and 36 minutes, less than the average time of 7.5 days.