Wounded warrior rides out injuries with grit and perseverance
Back in June, members of Spotsylvania County Boy Scout Troop 165 began helping Marine Sgt. John Peck, a quadruple amputee, train to ride an adaptive bike in October’s Marine Corps Marathon.
During the first day, the dozen scouts weren’t sure how to act around a quadruple amputee. How would they feel if they lost both arms and legs in a war?
In 2008, Peck was awarded the first of two Purple Hearts after suffering a brain injury as a result of an explosion when his vehicle passed over an IED in Iraq.
When he recovered, he returned to combat in Afghanistan, where he lost his limbs. Peck was in a medically induced coma for two months after a 2010 IED explosion in Afghanistan. It happened when he was using a metal detector to sweep for the devices to clear the way for his unit. When he woke up, he said to his mother and wife, “My feet hurt.” He was told he no longer had feet.
The scouts soon learned that he wasn’t the sensitive, brooding type.
On the second day of bike training, he told them he didn’t like Team Peck, the name a scout parent had given the group.
“It’s too boring,” the 27-year-old Peck said, then announced, “Let’s call ourselves Peck & the Nubsters.”
The scouts exhaled. Peck had a sense of humor about himself. They could bust on him. They could make fun of him in the same merciless teenage-boy way they do each other. And the same way Marine Corps buddies razz each other.
Peck needed that sense of humor as he learned to ride the low slung bike with prosthetic arms instead of real legs. The first day, he could only make it three miles. The scouts kept coming back, first twice a week, then three times, pushing him to go farther, week after week.
“He taught us a few words we didn’t know before,” said one of the scouts, Joseph Lawrence, a 17-year-old senior at Courtland High School.
On Saturday, during the Ron Rosner YMCA’s Lakes and Grapes Century Ride—the first formal test for Peck & the Nubsters, he hand-pedaled himself to the half-way mark of a 100-mile course over narrow, winding rural Spotsylvania roads.
At one point Peck was pumping the hand cycle so hard that a screw flew out of a strap attaching him to his left prosthetic arm. The team stopped to search for the screw, concerned they’d have to end John’s ride before he reached his goal of the 26 miles he’d need to do in a marathon.
Before it was found, Peck smiled, protesting that he’d be fine without it and was ready to press on. “Really,” he said, “how many screws do you need?”
Peck pedaled most of the way under his own power, but on a few steep inclines he got a little push.
Occasionally, Peck needs a hand. When he does, the Nubsters give him not one, not two, but 24.
“It helps the boys,” said Carrie Combs, whose son Michael is an Eagle Scout member of Troop 165. “It helps Mr. Peck. It helps the boys become more aware.”
Her husband Steven is a Marine Corps vet disabled in the Gulf War. He heard from an official with the Disabled American Veterans that Peck wanted to ride an adaptive bike in the Marine Corps Marathon. Since they live in the same area, Combs was asked if he could help Peck prepare.
Troop 165 has been training for a 2014 California-to-Virginia bike ride. So the elder Combs asked Troop 165 Scoutmaster Bruce White if the scouts would help Peck train.
Mahlon Johnson of the Wounded Warrior Program worked with Combs and Troop 165 to develop a training regimen for Peck.
The Disabled American Veterans, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, and local Veterans of Foreign Wars groups donated money for training, expenses and team shirts.
Peck’s goal for Saturday was to go 26 miles.
He went nearly twice that, making it to the halfway point. before returning home in a handicapped accessible bus provided by Troop 165. “It was amazing,” Peck said. “It was hard, but it was fun.”
Michael Zitz: 540/846-5163