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AF Cyclists put passion into action

22 ARW, McConnell AFB, AFCT

Members of the Air Force Cycling Team North Texas Team pose for a photo July 28, 2018, in Rock Island, Illinois, after completing the 2018 Registers’ Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. Cyclers dunked their tires in their Missouri River at the beginning of the ride and the Mississippi River to symbolize the completion of the RAGBRAI. (Courtesy photo)

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- “There are times when you’re tired,” said Chief Master Sgt. Susanne Herbert, 22nd Maintenance Group superintendent. “You’re not getting a lot of sleep at night, you’re camping, you’re riding and on average, people don’t ride 70 to 100 miles a day. So I’d say it’s something that your body has to become accustomed to.”

Herbert, while explaining her fatigue, took out her phone and showed a picture of a man smiling while working his way down an Iowa road in a hand-powered bike.

“He’s paralyzed,” said Herbert. “He did it with his arms. So when my legs were hurting and he rolls up on me, I was like – hmm – I have nothing to complain about. It was very humbling and motivating for me to see him continue to challenge [himself].”

Herbert continued to share her stories of encounters she made while riding with the Air Force Cycling Team in 2016 and 2018. She not only experienced the physical and emotional sides of the rides, but also promoted the Air Force through social encounters she had during the events.

“It’s a great recruiting tool,” said Herbert. “Being visible and showing that people live by the commitments that they have made speaks volumes about the character of the Air Force.”

Tech. Sgt. Paul Shattuck, 931st Maintenance Squadron aircraft hydraulic technician, explained that the AFCT’s overall goal is to provide a positive image of the Air Force to, not only the people at the events, but to the United States as a whole.

Both Herbert and Shattuck participated in the 2018 Registers’ Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, which is the largest event in which, the AFCT team partakes.

“We rode in different groups,” said Herbert. “It’s not a race. Your time spent there is socializing and helping people on the side of the road, rendering aid and spending time in the towns.”

The AFCT is a mixture of Air Force retirees, reservists, guardsmen, dependents and active-duty. Approximately 25,000 to 30,000 people participated in this year’s seven-day RAGBRAI, and approximately 140 riders and 10 support individuals participated in the averaged 468-mile race as part of the AFCT. Each member, while representing the Air Force, is there to provide assistance to bikers in need.

Shattuck, who has been riding for the past five years, said that the AFCT has become an instrumental part of the RAGBRAI.

“As we ride across the state, [we are] helping with anything from accidents to fixing flat tires and broken chains,” said Shattuck. “The bonding that we go through as a team, riding together and helping people along the route is a really emotional experience for a lot of us.”

On Shattuck’s first RAGBRAI in 2013 during the 100-mile day ride, he was able to provide assistance to a cycler in need.

“This particular day I stopped to help someone with their flat tire,” said Shattuck. “They were so excited. It was the one thing she hoped would happen if she broke down, that an Air Force person would actually help her fix the tire.”

Shattuck said that it was a father-daughter team that he helped, but it wasn’t just him. Another AFCT teammate stopped to give some assistance as well, and the father and daughter were grateful for the help. Shattuck explained that moment was what encouraged him to continue riding with the AFCT on a regular basis.

“We’re minor players in the overall impact of the team,” said Herbert. “My teammates have overcome personal challenges to be able to be there. Everybody has their own reason for riding, but once you’re there, it’s a common goal – to get to the end in one piece”

Shattuck said that accidents can happen during the event and that the AFCT are able to provide basic first-aid to riders that are in need. Some medical members on the team are also able to help stabilize the injured person before an ambulance arrives.

“There are some pretty significant accidents that can happen when you’re [pedaling] downhill at 30 mph with a group of people and everybody is acting unpredictably or the road is bad,” said Herbert. “We had a couple of medics on the team that were very helpful with a couple of [accidents].”

Some members from the team were also able to help with the general flow of traffic to prevent any further damage or accidents to occur. The AFCT represents the Air Force in every action they do while wearing their cycling uniform and over 25,000 individuals are able to experience it first-hand.

“Whether it be bike repairs, self-aid buddy care, assisting, emergency medical service or directing traffic,” said Herbert. “Whatever it takes to serve our community and uphold the [Air Force] core values is a key component of being a part of the team and that speaks to me.”