View Full Version : Veterans’ Recovery, Operation Spin Cycle

Darth H. Tater
11-15-2008, 02:12 PM
Fayetteville, NC

Veterans’ Recovery
Operation Spin Cycle
Some injured soldiers are recovering with spin classes, which help build endurance with exercises on stationary bicycles.
By Amneris Solano
Staff writer
Twice a week just before day break, a group of veterans gathers at Hawley’s Bicycle World for a spin class.

It may sound ordinary. Soldiers often exercise in the morning.

Yet, this spin class in a back room of the bicycle shop is far from typical PT. These soldiers were wounded in action and have had to overcome great pains to be able to climb on a stationary bicycle.

You wouldn’t know they had been hurt at first glance. There’s not a whiner in the bunch.

Take a recent class at the end of October. Everyone in the class of nine appeared happy and strong as instructor Jen Doyle led them through the hour-long routine.
As the sun rose, Doyle kept the energy high inside the spin room, playing catchy pop tunes and instructing her students to stay hydrated.

“How does everybody feel about doing a hill?” Doyle asked the group.

“Yeah, let’s do a big hill!” shouted an enthusiastic Ivan Castro, who was blinded in combat in Iraq.

Castro was the inspiration for the class known as Operation Spin Cycle, said Leona O’Berry, who works at Womack Army Medical Center. O’Berry also is vice president of the Cross Creek Cycling Club and helped develop Operation Spin Cycle.

After Castro was injured, he wanted to get back into shape. He started taking spin classes on Pope Air Force Base from a cycling club member who also is a certified spin instructor. O’Berry kept the cycling club apprised of Castro’s progress on the spin bike. He did so well that the club took him on an outdoor tandem bike ride.
“I was so inspired by him that I talked about offering spin classes to other wounded soldiers, and several of my cycling club friends agreed that they would help,” O’Berry said. “Ivan heard about what I was planning to do and offered to help me get it started.”
The program, which started last December, aims to assist wounded soldiers in the Warrior Transition Battalion on Fort Bragg. The instructors donate their time, and Hawley’s Bicycle World donates the use of the space. The spin room can hold 10 students and an instructor. Typically, there are about nine students per class.
O’Berry comes to every class to make sure the soldiers have plenty of water, towels and moral support.

“You all are making me sweat,” she joked from the sidelines during a recent class.

O’Berry said the spin classes help the soldiers become stronger and build endurance. A lot of them have lost weight, she said, and no longer feel pain in their legs or knees.
“Spinning is a good mental high,” she said. “Students can feel that they are getting into great shape, having fun, and they enjoy the company of the other students in the class.”

The class doesn’t just have a physical effect on the soldiers, though. In these two soldiers’ cases, they say the exercise has changed their lives. These are their stories.


Sgt. George Morales is trying to rebuild his mind and his body.

Morales, a strapping 31-year-old man, was in prime shape until he was injured on two separate occasions in Iraq. The injuries have caused physical pain and memory loss, but he has a surprisingly sunny disposition for someone who has lived through such trauma.

He was first wounded from bullets piercing his knee. But the military police officer did not want to be sent home. So after he spent a month recovering in a hospital in the Middle East and when he was considered healed, he continued fighting.

Two months later, he was riding in a truck that was hit by a bomb.

He remembers little about the incident that nearly cost him his life. His head was bloody and swollen, and he was unconscious for six to eight hours. As a rescue team pulled Morales from the wreckage, the enemy continued to fire. He was shot twice in his back.

“Sixteen months after my injury, I’m still trying to remember what was going on,” said Morales, a Puerto Rican native who speaks with a thick Spanish accent. He learned English in the military but lost a lot of his language skills following the attack.

“But I’m OK,” he said.

Ever since he was a kid, Morales wanted to be an American solider, he said. He served as a police officer in Puerto Rico before joining the Navy and then the Army. He’s been in the Army for about six years. He joined because he feels the United States has done a lot for Puerto Rico, and he wanted to give back.

Morales is proud to be a veteran, he said, and continues to serve even after his injuries. Following the explosion — his second injury — he spent several months in different hospitals. His rehabilitation meant he had to relearn basic skills such as walking and eating.

“I was like a kid,” he said. “Two plus two equals four. Colors — that’s yellow, that’s white.”

Morales had to learn how to regain his balance because the bullet pierced a disc in his spine. His pituitary gland, which secretes certain hormones, no longer works.
Before the doctors diagnosed his pituitary gland problem, Morales said, he had started to lose his hair, and his skin began to sag. He began to look like a 60-year-old man, he said. But once he began treatments — medication and weekly hormone injections — it reversed the aging.

“People see me from the outside,” he said, “and they don’t think I have (any injuries).”
Still, the recovery process has been difficult. He is a personal trainer at a gym, but he has not been able to lift weights for more than 45minutes without getting dizzy or nauseous. He can’t run or swim. Holding his breath underwater causes too much pain.
“It’s hard when you know you have to do this but you can’t,” Morales said. “The pain is coming. That’s hard. It makes you sad. Your mood is down. You don’t want to talk to anybody.”

He turned to the spin classes. Of all the therapy he has gone through, Morales said the spin classes have been the only exercise that has worked. The classes made him feel like his old self again.

“When I started riding, I could feel the pain going down,” he said.

Even his wife, Luisa, and his two children, 6-year-old Loise and 10-year-old George Jr., have noticed a difference in his attitude. They are happy that he’s found something that finally works. His family is living in San Juan, Puerto Rico, while Morales is stationed at Fort Bragg. When he returns to Puerto Rico, his wife told him they will buy a bike for her and a bike for him so they can ride together.

The spin class has even helped with his memory loss from the brain injury because he feels happier and fitter, he said.

“I see a difference in my body,” he said. “I feel like I can do some exercise. Because before I couldn’t do any exercise. I felt old — like I was done.”


David Vogelsang had been out of the military for 15 years before he decided to re-enlist in 2002.

“Living in a country is a privilege not a right,” Vogelsang said, explaining why he wanted to go back into the military.

But just two weeks into his tour in Iraq, Vogelsang, 49, injured his shoulder in a Humvee rollover. Vogelsang, who is a sergeant in the Army Reserves, wanted to stay in the Middle East to continue serving but was sent home to have surgery.

“It was just one of those things,” he said. “It just hit the right spot at the right time with the right amount of pressure to basically bust everything up and put me down.”

That was more than a year and half ago. He had surgery to repair a torn rotator-cuff. Later on, the doctors learned his bicep tendon was torn. Five weeks ago, doctors cut the tendon and screwed it to his bone. He’s been in physical therapy ever since.

“I’m a few thousand-dollar man, if you want to call it that,” he said with a smile. “They put my shoulder back together, and I have anchors in there and everything. The Army is taking care of me. Duke (University Hospital) is my physical therapy. Duke’s done my surgery.”

Vogelsang, a tri-athlete who is used to working out regularly, said not being able to swim or ride a road bike was tough. He was restricted from riding on a road bike. If he fell and hurt his shoulder, it would have undone all of his progress.

“Right now, I’m not allowed to run,” he said. “I’m currently limited to lifting things. The biggest thing I can lift is probably my fork and a cup of coffee.”

So Vogelsang jumped at the chance to join the spin classes, he said. The classes, he said, provide motivation and camaraderie. He hasn’t missed a class since the program started unless he is having an operation. He even has started teaching some classes, and when he finally got the OK to ride a road bike again, he felt great because of the training he had done in the spin class.

In May he finished a bike ride from Washington, D.C. to Charlotte — almost 500 miles — as part of Road 2 Recovery. The program has bike rides across the country aimed at helping wounded veterans.

Vogelsang credits the spin classes with keeping him in good enough shape to complete the Road 2 Recovery bike ride. Getting back on a road bike came as second nature to him, he said.

“I got a bike on Thursday and rode it around the parking lot. Friday I was on my way to Washington, D.C.,” he said. “Saturday I was riding with the rest of the injured soldiers. That was a long trip, but it was great.”