The University of Mississippi Department of Health, Exercise Science and Recreation Management is hosting the third annual AmTrykes in Action Race benefiting disabled veterans over the weekend on the Ole Miss campus.
Saturday, student and faculty teams will race 75 laps around the Lyceum Circle which is roughly 25 miles. The eight to 10-person teams will take turns racing modified tricycles, called AmTrykes. At the end of the race, each team will hand over their Tryke to a deserving veteran.
AmTrykes are adaptable therapeutic tricycles made by AMBUCS, a national nonprofit organization that helps create mobility and independence for people with disabilities.
“It is the best prize we could ever offer,” race director Mary Claire Hamner said. “We hope to provide a new and safe outlet of outdoor recreation to our unsung heroes.”
Hamner’s grandfather is a United States Marine Veteran, and she has two other family members currently serving in the Marines.
“Our military men and women provide for us, day in and day out, and it is commonly forgotten,” Hamner said.
A total of eight Trykes will be donated to both student veterans and veterans of North Mississippi.
The first recipient is Sgt. Oliver McGhee, from Southaven who served two tours in Iraq and served in both the Navy and Army for a total of 22 years. McGhee wants to use the AmTryke to help with his weight management, cope with PTSD symptoms and to allow him to engage in cycling with his kids.
Sgt. Ron Powell from Bruce will also receive an Tryke. He served in the Army for 18 years including one tour in Iraq and one in Desert Storm. He will utilize this cycle to help cope with chronic pain and PTSD.
The third recipient is Brandon Miller from Wall who served in the Navy and was honorably discharged in 2007 after serving eight years. Miller served three tours in Iraq. Miller will use the AmTryke for weight management and to improve mood and to engage in cycling with his family.
The fourth recipient is Michael Watkins of the Lafayette-Oxford-University community. Watkins is a veteran of the U.S. Army and completed a yearlong tour in Iraq.
Nicholas Roylance, a veteran of the U.S. Army, who received an Army Achievement Award upon his exit from the service after injury is the fifth recipient. Roylance is completing his degree in theatre arts at Ole Miss and is pursuing his career in all things writing and acting.
The remaining three Trykes will be donated to the Student Veterans Association on campus to provide recreational outlets for their new facility, The Veterans Resource Center.
“People are unaware that we have student veterans enrolled at school here,” Hamner said. “You think they are young and there is no way they have had this whole life before them, but a lot have gone through unimaginable circumstances.”
The center will provide student veterans a variety of benefits to improve their life on campus.
“So far, our partnership with the Student Veterans Association on campus has boosted awareness immensely and we are glad to have such an amazing group of people on campus advocating for us,” Hamner said.
The following weekend, two veterans receiving the AmTrykes, Watkins and Roylance, will be presented with their AmTrykes at the Military Appreciation Ole Miss Baseball game against LSU on April 27.
“Coach Bianco is from Louisiana and knows the LSU coach well. They are both big supporters of the Vets,” said Kim Beason, the faculty coordinator for AmTrykes in Action. “We hope it will be good camaraderie for two teams that usually don’t like each other.”
Former President of the Student Veterans Association and AmTryke recipient, Aaron Rutkowski was presented an AmTryke on the football field in the fall of 2016.
Rutkowski served in the U.S. Army for five years as a Military Police Officer and did one tour in Iraq. He was medically discharged due to a knee injury.
“I didn’t used to ride a bike because it hurt my knee,” Rutkowski said.
Now, he rides his AmTryke almost daily for personal recreation and SVA promotion.
“I did some modifications where we can use it for veteran events. I put a PVC pipe on the back to hold flags,” Rutkowski said. “When we have our annual Veteran Awareness Walk I will lead or follow with the bike.”
Rutkowski flies an Ole Miss powder blue flag and an American flag behind his AmTryke. He will graduate in May and continue as a graduate student studying Higher Education.
The overall goal of the event is to raise $10,000 before May 15 in order to purchase 10 AmTrykes for the local veteran community.
“I’m happy to fundraise for this event to be able to give them something back, especially something so valuable as the quality of life that is found in outdoor recreation,” Hamner said.