I am happy to be writing about yet another brilliant event geared toward helping our nation’s combat veteran athletes.  The Team Red, White & Blue Tri-Camp took place on 12-15 April in Austin and was by all measures a remarkable weekend.  Fourteen veterans attended the triathlon training camp which was hosted by Coach Derrick Williamson and professional triathlete and military veteran Jessica Jacobs, and featured guest professional triathlete and military veteran Jessica Meyers. (more…)

Team Red, White & Blue’s mission is to enrich the lives of wounded veterans and their families, and the organization has helped countless veterans achieve this goal.  However, what is really special and honorable about Team RWB is that its leaders share a passion for uniting communities not just of wounded veterans, but their families, advocates, neighbors and anybody willing to support the cause.  Chris Widell, an Army Officer and Team RWB Lead Advocate for the Houston Chapter, was inspired by an incredible community member named Chris Arthey, an amputee living in the Houston area.  The pair met in November 2011 while registering for Team RWB’s Veterans Day Race in Houston. This post will try to shed light on the true inspiration Chris and Denise Arthey provide to our community, but will most likely fall short in fully relating our gratitude to them.

Chris and his wife Denise, who are originally from the UK, moved to Texas in 2007 as part of a job assignment from Chris’ employer.  Behind in the UK, they left their three children, the youngest of whom was in college at the time.  Chris was an avid runner with nine marathons under his belt and didn’t skip a beat in getting involved in the Texas running scene. Shortly after his move to Texas, he competed in the February 2008 Austin half-marathon, finishing in 5th place for his age group.

In May, Chris and Denise took a road trip on their Harley Davidson to explore the southern coast of Texas.  Following a relaxing break for lunch on a quiet weekday, tragedy struck that would change Chris and Denise’s lives forever.  They were hit nearly head-on by a drunk driver who veered into their lane at 80 miles per hour.  The combined speed of the accident was 135 MPH and it almost killed them both.  Chris and Denise both lost their left legs, some mobility in their broken left arms, and suffered several internal injuries.  Denise had fewer internal injuries and less concussion than Chris, who was comatose for three weeks.  Recovery was incredibly difficult, but both Chris and Denise were fighters, and fortunately very fit, so they were able to leave the hospital after just a few short months in July of 2008.

Chris was determined to eventually run again although he knew it would be a long and painstaking process.  He received his first prosthetic running leg at the end of 2009, and he ran his first post accident 5k in January of 2010 in less than 50 minutes.  As a modest Chris puts it, he was just happy he “didn’t fall over or finish last!” By May of 2011, Chris was running well over six miles continuously and had mastered swimming and cycling enough to attempt his first triathlon.

In November 2011, Chris ran the Team RWB Veterans Day Race and says he was “totally impressed with the Team RWB concept,” and that he and Denise “admire how Americans are careful to honor those who serve their country.”  Chris was motivated by other amputees, such as Dan Cowart who was badly injured while on active duty yet still embodies the warrior spirit as demonstrated by his completion of the entire race in a hand-crank wheelchair.  However, this motivation was certainly not one-sided.  If you talk to Dan, he will tell you that Chris’s example inspired him to transition from riding the handcrank bike to running on a prosthetic leg.

Chris met with Widell to run the Austin half-marathon in February and then again in March for what was his first full marathon as an amputee.  Chris was incredibly proud and honored to wear the Team RWB eagle on his chest as he completed two of his toughest runs.  Chris recalls Widell running with Old Glory, then feeling such gratefulness when Widell came back to encourage him and help him finish the last mile of the marathon.  Chris views himself as an alien or outsider wearing the eagle and colors of Old Glory.  He very modestly claims that he didn’t lose his leg under such honorable circumstances as our wounded veterans. However, it is readily apparent that he embodies the values, resilience and spirit of our wounded warriors.  His selfless impact on our community and mission has been immense, and we at TRWB couldn’t think of a better word to describe his actions than – honorable.

Chris is thankful to have met the Team RWB family because they have been an enormous support system for him, and he enjoys participating in Team RWB events.  Chris says that he and Denise have “literally been pulled through our worst days by wonderful people who believe in us.  They have helped us to prove that when the worst happens, you don’t need to be ‘under the circumstances’ but can rise above them.”  Chris and Denise are happy that they can carry on Team RWB’s slogan, “It’s Our Turn” to encourage others in their time of need.  Chris has not wasted any time in helping those in need – he has inspired several amputee veterans to resume running again.  Chris is the epitome of a Team RWB advocate, and he is an inspiration to all of us.  Chris and Denise, we are so happy to have you as part of our team!

It’s Our Turn!