ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Feb. 7, 2023) – Blanca Baquero-Cruz is a master of adaptive sports. Several years ago, she was introduced to the world of adaptive sports by the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program. In 2019 she represented the Air Force in the Warrior games in five disciplines … swimming, recumbent cycling, compound archery, air rifle and racing chair.
The problem Baquero-Cruz faced was she didn’t own any of the equipment she had become so adept using until she discovered Hope For The Warriors and its Warrior’s Wish Program.
“Adaptive sports have greatly improved my mental and physical health,” said Baquero-Cruz, a 20-year U.S. Air Force veteran who is on full disability because of severe PTSD. “However, I live on a fixed income in Alaska and cannot afford any adaptive sports equipment on my own. The equipment I have used in the past are loaners which must be returned.”
Baquero-Cruz decided about a year ago that it was time to search for help in obtaining equipment of her own. With some input from her friends at the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program and a little online investigation, she found the Warrior’s Wish Program. She immediately went to work applying for her wish, an ICE (Inspired Cycle Engineering) Trike with e-assist, which would allow her to cycle year-around in Alaska.
“Cycling is one of the only sports that gets me out of the house, provides exercise and helps me feel good about myself again. I would also finally be able to join fellow veterans in weekly trail rides which would be a dream/wish come true,” she shares.
The Warrior’s Wish program granted Baquero-Cruz’s wish by gifting her an ICE Trike valued at over $11,000. The ICE Trike is a recumbent, three-wheeled bike, outfitted with balloon tires and other enhancements that allow navigation in Alaska’s rugged weather and terrain 365 days a year.
“My biggest life challenge is finding safe ways to enjoy the outdoors. My mental health and physical health always suffer when I’m confined inside for the long dark winters,” said Baquero-Cruz. “To have a bike that I can ride year-around with fellow disabled persons is a game changer. I was limited with other borrowed recumbents due to the terrain. However, with this new trike, I can go with my friends on any trail without worrying about the hills and my physical ability to pedal up them.”
Baquero-Cruz says she typically takes one to two-hour rides with volunteers from a local adaptive sports organization. “Cycling alone when you are disabled is never a safe idea, so I arrange rides with volunteers or fellow disabled persons.”
“We are so pleased we were able to fulfill Blanca’s wish and give her the chance to get back outdoors, getting exercise and spending time with friends,” said Robin Kelleher, co-founder and CEO of Hope For The Warriors. “When the Warrior’s Wish program was established this is exactly the type of support we wanted to achieve … giving a veteran a chance to improve and enhance their physical and mental health.”
Cycling in Alaska can be a challenge to any rider, especially in the winter. The long, long nights, freezing weather, snowstorms, even wild animals, figure into the equation cyclists must solve.
“I typically wear the same gear that I would wear for Nordic skiing. I wear a cold-weather skull cap under my helmet and on colder days a neck gaiter or balaclava. The gloves have to be nimble enough to operate the brakes and gears while withstanding the colder elements,” said Baquero-Cruz, who was a linguist during her 20 years in the Air Force. “You have to have eye protection, or you can burn your eyes from the glare off the snow.”
She said you have to schedule rides around limited daylight hours in the winter with only five to six hours of daylight available daily.
Snow obviously is an issue, she said. Earlier this winter over four feet of snow fell in a week. When there is a big snowfall, cyclists have to wait for streets and trails to be opened. And then there is the matter of wildlife.
“Moose are always present. We have to be vigilant when cycling on trails for our large furry friends. They will win any collision with a bike!”
Since 2006, Hope For The Warriors has provided almost $2.5 million in grants, assisting with 251 wishes.
About Hope For The Warriors: Founded in 2006, Hope For The Warriors is a national nonprofit dedicated to restoring a sense of self, family and hope for post-9/11 veterans, service members and military families. Since its inception, Hope For The Warriors has served over 40,000 through a variety of support programs focused on health and wellness, sports and recreation and transition. One of the nonprofit’s first programs, Military Spouse and Caregiver Scholarships, has awarded 212 scholarships to caregivers and families of the fallen. For more information, visit hopeforthewarriors.org, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.