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Voices From the Heartland: Heartland Friends Ride Together Again

Last year about this time, I wrote a story about two close friends and how I (along with many others) got to be a part of their story and friendship. The story is about Sam Russell and Carl Edwards.

As I reported then, Sam and Carl are buddies, pals, friends. Have been since kindergarten. They played together, got into mischief together, rode mountain bikes together, made potato cannons together. You know, all that normal stuff boys do as they are growing up and dreaming about the future. Unfortunately, as Sam’s mother, Nancy, explained, Sam’s future was drastically altered three years ago.

“He went out for a ride on his lunch hour on June 28th, 2007,” she said. “He had ridden on the Trek mountain biking trails many times, but this time when he took one of the jumps, something happened to propel him, head first, into a tree. The surgeon, a biker himself, speculated that he was going about 30-35 mph when he hit the tree. He compressed the vertebra, and thus the spinal cord, at T-9. He’s paralyzed from about two inches above his waist down. His upper body is fine and he had no head injury. His helmet kept him from death and a massive head injury.”

Upon hearing of his friend’s trauma, Carl was adamant about helping out his longtime pal in any way he could, and what has become known as “Ride with Carl for Sam” was born.

This year was actually the third “Ride” since Sam’s accident, and the second in which it has been my pleasure to participate. However, there was one little thing that made this year’s event a bit more special; Sam himself was able to not only attend, but to actually ride the trail with his longtime friend once again, using a specially made hand-cycle bike.

“Last year I was in Atlanta all by myself, feeling pretty lonesome. To be able to come here this year and bring my three girls along and be able to ride, it’s wonderful,” Sam said.

Carl was equally, if not more, excited than his buddy.

“Sam’s the man! We’re going to have to change the name to ‘Ride with Sam for Carl’ ‘cause I’m being more inspired by him and all these people that are coming out and supporting him than they are by me,” said Edwards, during one of the many interviews he endured before the actual trek.

And Carl is right.

As I met Sam Russell for the first time, shook his hand and chatted a bit before we started to ride, it made me pause for a moment and count my own blessings. You see, back in April of this year, I, too, took a serious tumble from my own bicycle, resulting in multiple facial fractures which required a few hours of surgery and having my jaw wired shut for a month to repair. Up until I actually met Sam and saw him both in his wheelchair and on his specially constructed bicycle, I thought of my accident as “just one of those things that happen,” despite my girlfriend and others telling me how lucky I was not to have broken my own fool neck.

But to meet this young man whose life was drastically altered in so many ways, to see him HAND pedal over 10 miles, to see him once again be able to ride bicycles with his childhood friend and to see the gleam in the eyes of that friend – the man we all know as a superstar in NASCAR – it truly was inspiring.

Sam Russell, I thank you for that inspiration. I look forward to seeing you next year!

Stay off the wall (and always wear your helmet!),

Jeff Meyer

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