If not for the selfless and dedicated staff at Landstuhl Military Hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, U.S. Army veteran Tom von Kaenel would not be alive today – and he knows it.
On Sept. 16, 2009, while cycling in the Pyrenees Mountains, Tom had a gruesome cycling accident, suffering major injuries all over his body, shattering his pelvis, dislocating his hip and breaking his eye socket. After the crash, he was taken to a London hospital, where doctors said he may never walk again and would have to drastically change his way of life. Not one to give in so easily, Tom secured a transfer to Landstuhl, where they were better equipped to treat his injuries, and where they ultimately saved his life.
“It was like being in a shrine – the holiest place I’ve ever been to,” Tom says of Landstuhl. “I was in the trauma ward with soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan. It just struck me, the concentrated effort being put forth to get these people well. And, I said right there that I’m going to learn to walk again and get back on my bike and tell this story. I really feel it’s my quest.”
For the next two years, Tom would endure intense physical therapy and constant pain in order to fulfill the commitments he made in that hospital room – and prove to his doctors that a full recovery was possible.
On April 21, 2012, Tom’s vision became reality. The Sea 2 Sea Foundation, the non-profit organization he founded after his accident, is sponsoring a 79-day, 4,200 mile bicycle quest across England and America to raise almost $18 million for service members injured in the War on Terror. Donations will go to various U.S. and UK charities, including Wounded Warriors and Help for Heroes.
Tom began his journey in Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, England, where he cycled the 60-plus miles to London Heathrow Airport and boarded a flight to Seattle. In April, he set off from the Pacific Ocean, just west of Seattle, heading southwest, through Middle America and the Midwest, down into South Carolina, and back up the East Coast to Washington, D.C.
To stay on schedule, Tom rides about 63 miles per day, from early morning to early-to-mid afternoon, usually accompanied by a group of local cyclists. In the afternoons and evenings, Tom meets with local community leaders, gives talks at schools, and visits military bases and Veterans hospitals – spreading the word about his mission. He’s also scheduled to speak at some major events, including the Country Music Awards Music Festival on June 9 in Nashville, Tenn.
Joining Tom for the entirety of the trip will be a support group consisting of one British retiree and one fully loaded RV. His jack-of-all-trades partner, Bruce Hammersley, is a retired entrepreneur, who signed on as the trip photographer, but has since taken on various other jobs, including official blogger, cook, bottle washer and driver.
“Bruce has been absolutely instrumental in this effort,” Tom says. “I couldn’t do it without him.”
Tom and Bruce are scheduled to finish their epic journey on Independence Day at the Arlington Cemetery in Washington, D.C. – after, first, dipping their feet into the Atlantic Ocean.
And, if you’re concerned about Tom’s health so soon after the accident, or worried about the effect the brutal summer sun will have on the men, just relax, he says. He’s got this.
“No matter what happens, I’ll be at Arlington Cemetery on July 4,” he says. “We’ll make the date. You can count on that.”
Tom von Kaenel is a current client of First Command Financial Services, Inc.
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