If you talk with Move United Warfighters Ambassador Alfredo Lopez, you can sense his passion for cycling. That wasn’t always the case. Growing up, he did like to cycle and he also played tennis, tried football, and other sports. But basketball was his main sport. “I was a small Forward and played a little bit of the Guard position as well,” he said. “But we weren’t good as a team. I think it came down to the importance of chemistry and coaching.”
In 1991, fresh out of high school he decided to join the military. He started out in an administrative role in the Army. But in 2003, he pivoted to military intelligence. “I wanted to do something that I wanted to do.” Stationed at Fort Campbell, Lopez would deploy into conflict zones twice, first to Iraq and then Afghanistan. During both deployments, he would end up being medevaced out.
The first time, while in Iraq, it was due to kidney stones that Lopez believes was a result of the water there. Other than that, “there were a couple explosions here and there and some concussions,” Lopez said about he experiences he had in country. “But I was lucky in that way.”
Then he was sent to Afghanistan. Lopez actually got hurt prior to that deployment in a training accident, which particularly impacted his neck and back. “I just wanted to deploy and do my duty.” And he would and he did. But ultimately he couldn’t physically continue. “I couldn’t walk for a short period of time… it was horrible.” Lopez was able to regain his ability to walk and after some physical rehabilitation went right back to Afghanistan.”
On and off since 2008, Lopez has undergone a lot of physical therapy. His focus is to stay active but has to be aware of not making it worse. He started adaptive sports by riding bikes through a program in the Houston area.
“I love cycling because they can adapt the bike to your impairment. It doesn’t matter what impairment you have,” he said. “If you are blind or visually impaired, there are tandem opportunities. If you’ve had a lower limb amputated or have leg issues, there is handcycling.
And if you have difficulty with your arms you can pedal with your legs.”
A bike can be modified to include electronic shifting or just about anything. ”I’ve met a number of riders who have different types of impairments but are still able to ride.”
In the past couple years, the retired Sergeant First Class has competed in a number events. He won a gold medal at the Southwest Valor Games in 2018 in the Recumbent Class, placed second and third in the 5K and 20K cycling category at the 2019 Endeavor Games, and took second place at the Texas Regional Games in both the criterium and time trial competitions.
Lopez hasn’t cycled indoors until this year. With the Coronavirus pandemic, that has changed his approach a bit. “Whether it is the pandemic, or weather, or other reasons that prevent you from riding outside, there are various apps that allow you to cycle inside.”
Recently, Lopez completed The Great American Ride as part of a team of other wounded warfighters. The Great American Ride is a 3,700-mile virtual team bike ride along the route of the Great American Rail-Trail, a developing trail that will eventually connect over thousands of miles and 12 states between Washington State and Washington DC. The Adaptive Cycling Warriors team was the fifth group to finish the virtual ride and finished third overall in their category.
The team logged their miles by cycling indoors or outdoors and they could see on a map where you were in the country based on the miles they had completed daily. “Our team was all adaptive,” Lopez said. “We had individuals handcycle, use the recumbent, and we had one use and upright.” The team came together after Lopez learned about the event through Outdoors for All, a Move United member organization that he first connected with in 2016. “I then connected with Move United to support the effort. We put the word out and the team came together pretty quickly.”
When it comes to group rides like this, some team members will do more miles than others and others do what they can. “Do your own ride. I had the free time to do more, so I did.”
There are many benefits to cycling, particularly when you can do so outdoors. “I ride a bike for exercise, but it is also very meditative. I enjoy nature and the fresh air. To be honest, I also practice mindfulness. It is about relaxing and enjoying the moment.”
He enjoys riding solo, but also enjoys riding with others. “Riding with groups is different, because it involves elements of communication. You have to work like a team so you know what is in front of you and what is behind you.”
Another activity Lopez enjoys undertaking is research on ADA (Americans with Disabilities) law when it comes to traveling, the use of mobility devices, and related topics. In addition to road cycling, he enjoys mountain biking, so he has recently looked into the National Park Service guidelines around e-bikes, for example. “They are allowed with some restrictions,” he said. “They are working to be more inclusive. But you still have to do what you can and cannot do.”