Rick Raley is a brave veteran and a wonderful husband, father, and role model. Over the past two weeks, Raley has been cycling from New York to Florida to raise money and awareness for an incredibly important cause. Even more incredible is that Raley took the challenge head-on, despite being paralyzed from the waist down. Here is his beautiful story.
Raley’s Army Service: A Decorated Veteran
Raley, a New York native, enlisted in 2004 and became a part of the Army National Guard. During his first deployment, he was part of a unit unofficially titled “The Avengers.” The unit conducted well over 200 combat missions and convoy escorts while overseas. Raley took it upon himself to be in the lead truck of every mission and convoy. He saw it as always protecting his unit, which had become his family.
In September 2008, Raley was coming to the end of his first deployment in Iraq. While he was an excellent soldier, Raley was ready to go home. He missed his wife, who was five months pregnant and wanted to prepare for the birth of his son.
However, a devastating incident happened just before his planned return. Raley’s truck was leading the way when his convoy tripped on an improvised explosive device
(IED). Despite injuries, Raley and the rest of unit managed to make the two-mile trek back to base. Raley, along with two others, received a purple hearts for their bravery and efforts during the events.
This brave soldier, now a veteran, thankfully was able to return home to his wife and be a part of his son’s life. However, it came at a cost. Raley returned home with no visible scars, but with a mild, traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The Car Accident That Changed Everything
In 2009, six months after returning from Iraq, Raley got in a near-fatal truck accident. In addition to a broken arm, the accident left him paralyzed from the waist down. But, as always, Raley was strong in both body and mind. A mere five days after the crash he’d already started physical therapy. Raley got physically stronger every day and having a son gave him more of a reason to heal.
However, the emotional scars from Iraq continued to haunt the veteran. It was hard enough raising a son in a wheelchair and going to physical therapy. But trying to be the best husband and father he could be, while suffering from PTSD, was taking its toll.
“Not walking, I’m cool with that,” Raley said recently. “But the PTSD affects you mentally and people can’t see it. All they know is that they’ve known you before and that you’re different now.”
Finding Passion And Motivation
Once again, Raley took matters into his own hands, seeking anything that would help. He found comfort and strength in adaptive sports, such as wheelchair basketball. Raley also began cycling, using a specially built bike that is hand powered, also known as “handcycling.” Raley started training seriously and competing, finding new motivation from both the challenge and the friends he was making.
It wasn’t long before Raley discovered The Boot Campaign. The Boot Campaign is a nonprofit organization which provides “life-improving programs for veterans and military families nationwide to bridge the divide between military life and civilian life.” Their programs include counseling, support groups, financial aid, and much more. Raley’s first involvement with The Boot Campaign was during their “Backyard Refresh” program, where the organization transformed veteran’s backyards to show their gratitude.
Raley’s Cause And Bike Journey
Now, Raley is making his way through the States to raise awareness and money for The Boot Campaign. Raley’s cycling 1,500 miles from his home in New York to Pinellas Park, Florida, where the Wounded Warriors Abilities Ranch is located. He hopes to raise at least $150,000 for his amazing cause and campaign.
“The goal is to have that veteran who’s trapped in a house feeling isolated, run their family off, just feel like they are at the end – my goal is to reach them with this awareness, and have them know there’s a group of people who are willing to help them. It’s the Boot Campaign and we’re here,” Raley said.
You can read more about Raley’s incredible journey here, share, donate, and raise awareness.