Peer counseling is one of the few things therapist Jason Patillo can’t provide for amputees undergoing rehabilitation at Augusta’s uptown Veterans Affairs hospital.
So he was glad to see one of his patients swapping prosthetic legs and war stories Wednesday with Wesley Barrientos, one of two veterans riding bicycles cross-country to raise awareness of veteran issues.
“It’s definitely motivational,” Patillo said. “(Barrientos) is at the finish line, and some of these guys are still at the starting line.”
Barrientos, an Army veteran who lost both legs to a roadside bomb explosion in 2007, is traveling more than 4,000 miles with former Marine and retired NFL defensive end Jeremy Staat.
They left the Wall of Valor in Bakersfield, Calif., on Feb. 19 and aim to reach the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial on May 28.
Along the way, they are stopping at military installations, schools, hospitals and other locations to bring awareness to topics including veteran suicides and to promote veteran centers on college campuses.
“It’s not a bicycle ride, it’s a campaign,” Staat said.
The team pedaled into town Tuesday and was joined by local cyclists from Harlem through the Augusta Canal towpath before speaking at Academy of Richmond County.
Their stops Wednesday included the VA hospitals, Fort Gordon and the Fisher House on the VA campus.
This morning, they will travel 73 miles to Columbia.
Staat draws on the lessons learned playing football for Arizona State and in the NFL and his experiences in the Marine Corps to inspire those around him.
“Those lessons were freely learned, so I’m freely trying to give them,” he said.