Riding to inspire - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Riding to inspire

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

"The mission today is to connect with all Vermonters living in a wheel chair," said Chris Tagatac of Wheel Chair Vt. "So, we decided to give ourselves a challenge."

That challenge: a two-day hand-pedal along ALL of Route 7, from Highgate Springs to Pownal.

The 168-mile journey would take an avid traditional cyclist about 10 hours, but will likely take these athletes nearly three times longer.

Navigating the heavy traffic poses a major challenge, as does the physical effort needed to overcome Vermont's terrain.

"The challenge is certainly going be the hills down south, some of the hills from Manchester to Bennington, those are some pretty steep riding," said Tagatac.

Hand cyclist Michael Audette said Saturday, "The hills are the hardest part of this, it's great going down a hill, but it's hard getting up that hill."

But the challenges on the pavement pale in comparison to other's Michael Audette faced. He lost 20 percent of his brain while serving in Desert Storm when his helicopter crashed.

"I have constant vertigo and dizzy spells, 20-30 spells a day," said Audette. "It feels like that butterfly effect, like when you get on a roller coaster. Starts in my stomach and rolls up into my head."

The veteran doesn't let Traumatic Brain Injury stop him from competing in every adaptive sport he can and sharing that passion with his fellow wounded warriors. He is the director of the nonprofit organization Allied Forces Foundation New England Region.

He says he's on his bike every day it isn't snowing.

"It gives you that sense of freedom," Audette explains. "Getting out on a day like today, it's just incredible."

But outings like these aren't just about getting out or working out. Organizers say by connecting with each other, they can also share the latest news within their community.

"Whether you're spinal cord injured, traumatic brain injury, M.S., or something else that keeps you in a wheelchair, there's a lot of really interesting research happening right now," said Tagatac.

The ride began early Saturday with relay stops along the way and is expected to roll-on well into Sunday.

Organizers hope their journey helps other paralyzed individuals along theirs. 

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