Therese Mangham ended her 22 years of military service with a Purple Heart and a traumatic brain injury. She received both of them after being hit by a blast from an improvised explosive device in 2008.
She spent three weeks that year in Germany in the warrior transition unit hoping to work her way back to her unit, but the wounds proved to be too much.
“When you have the invisible wounds, when you don’t have a hand blown off, or an arm blown off or you’re not in a wheel chair, people don’t see the invisible wounds, when you suffer from a traumatic brain injury or your have post traumatic stress disorder,” Mangham said.
She looked to the VA for help with her wounds but says she did not find the assistance she needed. It got so bad that she tried to take her life. It was only then that she turned to the group Wounded Warriors for help.
“The Wounded Warrior Project supported me so much … and it was the journey for me to be able to give back and learn how to love me, and learn how to accept me, and learn how to be OK with me, and learn how to be okay on those days even when I wasn’t OK,” Mangham said.
On Thursday, Mangham will be among some 40 veterans participating in a Wounded Warriors Soldier Ride in Pittsburgh.
Event Director Dan Schnock said a Soldier Ride is an adaptive sporting event that allows soldiers to do what they did when they were a kid — ride a bike.
“The most important piece is the engagement piece," Schnock said. "If you can get warriors to literally come back even if they’re having a tough time or they’re doing great, and they’ve established their new norm, it’s really great for them to just chit chat and talk, and who better to talk to than your peers. So for us, it truly is an engaging social ride.”
When they arrive at the Wounded Warriors event, the vets will go through a bike fitting.
“Any new norm, and I say new norm, that a warrior comes to us with, whether he’s missing a hand, missing an arm, or has that invisible wound known as post traumatic stress or even a traumatic brain injury, any injury, or any new norm that that person is dealing with, we can adapt a bike to make it work,” Schnock said.
Unmodified bikes, adaptive hand cycles, bicycles that accommodate various injuries and disabilities, even tricycles will be available for the soldiers. The vets are encouraged to ride through Pittsburgh on a 13-mile scavenger hunt.
The ride includes a visit to the Duquesne Incline, a stop at the Wolfpack boxing club and a Pirates game.
On Saturday, the event heads north to Moraine State Park for a 20-mile ride topped off with kayaking and paddleboarding.
“I’ll tell you, there’s nothing like inspiring the warriors by having the community come out and cheer for them at different locations … but I guarantee you that the warriors inspire the community as well," Schnock said. "Whenever we go through a city or a traffic sign, people see the warriors, they stop, they cheer, they wave, it really inspires the warriors as well.”