Adapt and Conquer: From Sea to Shining Sea

Jon Johnnidis of Axios Productions was selected as a finalist by RED Cinema Cameras, in conjunction with Outside TV, in the REDirect 2016: Explore competition. The project took Jon and his team on a 2 week journey from California to Carolina with a team of 13 wounded, disabled and supporting cyclists, both military and civilian, on the ride of  a lifetime; a 3,113 mile journey across the country. This is the final product.  

Kelsey Rae Insognia: One Badass Hand-Cyclist

I truly enjoyed meeting and getting to know Kelsey. Despite the fact that she claimed to dislike my camera's presence, her insightful thoughts and sharp wit made it impossible to stay away! Her perspective was one of the first to open my eyes to the importance of adaptive sports in her life, and those around her.  We bonded over our love of chicken wings (I still owe you a couple of dozen Kels), and my admiration grew stronger each day as I watched her reach more milestones in cycling than most people could ever imagine attempting while the relationship bonds surrounding her grew.

Get to know Kelsey a little from her profile video, then watch the full version of Adapt & Conquer below to support the team! 

Sergeant Pam Kelly: United States Army Medically Retired. Hero.

 

 

One of the first things Pam Kelly taught me when we met the day before our 3,113 mile journey across the country was the fact that on average 22 veterans per day take their own lives. Pam told me she too struggled for many years with this dark side after a horrible accident during service in the Army took everything but the use of her left arm. She lived a life of solitude, literally and figuratively, numbed by prescription drugs and a feeling of complete emptiness. She had all but given up, until one day a friend brought her out to watch them ride. It was at that moment when Adaptive Sports saved Pam's life.  

13 years after her injury, Pam is getting ready to be the first cycling team on this epic journey from California to Carolina. While she is a professional hand-cyclist with a proven track record on multiple journeys such as the 450 mile Army/Navy Ride 2 Recovery and the Gulf Coast Challenge from Georgia to New Orleans, this was her first time ever attempting this many consecutive miles in such a short period of time. That coupled with the fact she didn't know a single person beyond a few telephone calls prior to the trip gave her a bit of expected hesitancy altogether. "Who was this crazy Aaron person trying to get someone with one arm to ride across the country?" was her initial reaction. 

Well, it turns out the strength in Pam's one arm pushing and pulling that hand pedal for dozens of miles in a row, and the unbreakable spirit she emanates throughout, is more powerful than 10 "able-bodied" legs combined. As the days went on, I took absolute pleasure in watching Pam's smile get bigger, her laughter louder, and the bonds with her fellow riders become stronger. 

In Pam's words, Adaptive Sports saved her life. The fact that individuals facing life altering injuries who have lost all hope can actually live better lives then they had before is a foreign idea to many of these wounded soldiers and civilians. It's foundations like Carolinas HealthCare System, The Independence Fund, and the Semper Fi Fund who are saving lives daily by introducing and supporting adaptive sports programs on all levels for anyone in need. Continue to support these programs, our riders, and the 22 solider's everyday who think there is no escape from their current state of mind. Pam has taught me that literally ANYTHING can be accomplished with the strength of just one hand.

Jon Johnnidis - DP/Director: Adapt & Conquer 

Lieutenant Colonel Tres "Grinch" Smith: Hero.

 

Sitting next to active Lt. Col. Tres Smith of the United States Marine Corps, war hero, as he drove lead vehicle during our cross-country ride, we talked for over an hour about his time in combat, the wounds he's received both physically and emotionally, and the healing effects all of these riders are experiencing through the camaraderie and unity of this adventure. Adaptive Sports has brought this incredibly diverse and inspirational group of people together who may otherwise not have met, and have built long lasting relationships and the ability to bond over something only they can relate to. 

The laundry list of Tres' military achievements made me feel honored to be sitting next to this man and thankful to know we have warriors like him fighting for our way of life. A decorated war hero who was shot down while choppering in supplies to troops fighting on the ground in Afghanistan, he sustained 6 bullet holes with one, as he puts it, "magic bullet." Injured but not deterred, he worked like a maniac to get his body healed so he could return to his squadron and continue the fight. He returned to Afghanistan and beyond numerous times after his injury and is currently an active Marine working at the Pentagon. 

Tres' determination is complimented with a dry sense of humor and an overwhelming calm no matter what he is presented with. 40 mile stretches, into 3 hour drives, then back on the road; Tres welcomed with ease. For me, one of the highlights of the trip was when Tres offered me his road bike to join the group for a 20 mile stretch. It was an honor to cycle with these athletes and Im thankful to Tres for giving me that unique opportunity. 

Watch Tres' short video clip up top, then the full story below and vote "like" on youtube to support our team!  

- Jon Johnnidis: Adapt & Conquer DP/Director 

Joey Bashaw: Hand-Cyclist. Adventurer.

Joey Bashaw is one bad ass rider. As a fellow New Yorker (now living in Charlotte), I really appreciated Joey's no nonsense, let's get it done attitude which he seems to apply to every aspect of his life, both on the road and off. As a hand cyclist, he is a an absolute powerhouse. Whenever he was on the road, we knew the pace would be set high and miles would be covered with speed and precision. We shared stories of different adventure activities we enjoyed participated in, ranging from scuba diving to kayaking, and the idea of being "disabled" seemed to be the furthest obstacle in his mind. He jumped in on day one of the ride to help plan out the route and maintained a sense of calm through some of the toughest stretches of road and grueling physical endurance. 

One of the most touching moments of the trip for me was when we finally made it back to Joey's home town in Charlotte, North Carolina and he was greeted by his overjoyed girlfriend Brittney Ebert. The two of them together made it clear why Joey was cycling so hard, as he put it, "to get home to her." My favorite quote from Brittney after a big hug to Joey was when she told me"I made him some slimy, sloppy eggs at home. Already made 'em for him." Now that's love!  

It's hero's like Joey Bashaw that truly inspire me and drive home the idea that yes, anything can be accomplished with desire, determination, and drive. 

Don't forget to watch the full version of Adapt & Conquer below and vote "like" on the Youtube page to support our team! 

Congressman Larry Kissell

 

Meet Congressman Larry Kissell. Larry was the U.S. Representative for North Carolina's 8th congressional district, serving from 2009 to 2013. On the team, Larry brought humor, the ability to help out in any role he was needed, and experience; this trip was his second time crossing the country on a bike! Supporting our wounded and disabled military veterans, and civilians, has always been an important cause for Larry both in his personal and professional life, and this journey was just another opportunity to show his commitment.  

Congressman Larry Kissell and hand cyclist Robbie parks 

VOTE "LIKE" ON THE VIDEO BELOW TO HELP SUPPORT THE TEAM! 

Adapt & Conquer: Robbie Parks

 

 

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When I first met Robbie, we shared a meal the day before our two week journey across the country was set to begin and he explained to me that his biggest concern was getting "hot." Naturally, I took this to mean in temperament at which point the producer in me was a little excited at the drama this may cause. As he continued on, he revealed to me that due to his injury, his body was unable to cool itself down. He literally would overheat. During the course of these long rides, he needed to continually cool himself down by pouring water on his head. 

Robbie's list of traits and achievements go way beyond being a powerhouse hand-cyclist, but to me, his defining characteristic is being a teacher. His soft spoken manner invites people in to listen to his lessons and learn from his experience. His strong stature commands respect and admiration. He is someone I admire. He is a hero. 

Don't forget to vote "like" on the youtube page below to support Robbie and the team! 

Adapt and Conquer - From Sea to Shining Sea

 

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Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to be chosen by Red Cinema Cameras, in conjunction with Outside Television, as one of 9 contestants in the REDIRECT 2016 competition. The competition terms were simple, shoot a 5 minute compelling outdoor adventure lifestyle story using one camera - - - the Red Scarlet-W. 

While I didn’t have any immediate projects that fit within these guidelines, the search was on. I went through a range of ideas that encompassed my passions including surfing in Nicaragua, a back-country heli-skiing strip, trekking through the jungles of El Salvador and snowmobiling in British Columbia. While any of these ideas would have been incredible, I decided on a more non-traditional route that had the potential of capturing beautiful imagery along with an inspirational, human interest  story of adaptive sports athletes accomplishing a monumental life mission.

On April 5th, my production partner Mark (who also happens to be my cousin), our driver George (who also happens to be my father), and myself, packed up our 40 foot RV, loaned to us by entrepreneur Mark O'donnel for this special project, and embarked on what would turn out to be the most challenging passion project of our production careers; documenting a 3,113 mile journey from California to Carolina following a group of wounded, disabled, and able bodied athletes as they cycled across the country to raise money and awareness for adaptive sports. Some were active and medically retired military and others were civilian, but each individual had more passion, determination, and sheer strength, both mentally and physically, than I could have ever imagined.

After more than 15 years in the industry, I'm comfortable with the fact that field production is always challenging. Regardless of how much pre-production and planning you do, some of the things that can go wrong inevitably will. What I wasn't prepared for, was anything that could go wrong actually going wrong. 

We hit more snags, bumps in the road (literal and proverbial), and problems than we could have ever planned for. Halfway to California we realized that our 40 foot RV had no running water making it a giant, mobile tent. On day 1 of production I woke up at 4am chilled and dripping with sweat due to a 101.2 fever that I had to pretend didn’t exist. Stormy weather, camera equipment issues, a work flow that we hadn’t mastered, dangerous road conditions making it impossible to shoot key moments, audio issues, equipment breaking, lack of sleep, and on and on… we were constantly faced with what seemed like an uphill battle and at times, an impossible mission to accomplish. I'd be lying if I didn't consider throwing in the towel multiple times within the first week...that was, until I met this incredible group of people who gave me the gift to save it all…PERSPECTIVE.

Robbie Parks, Sgt. Pam Kelly, Sgt. Aaron Harper, Joey Bashaw, Johnny Ragland, Bob Roberts, Lt. Col. Trey Smith, Kelsey Rae Insogna, Sgt. Jorge Toledo, Major Ed Moen, Jim and Jason Rogers, Congressman Larry Kissell.

This team of warriors, athletes, and hero’s showed us first-hand what a “challenge” actually was. They showed us that no matter what obstacle was placed in front us, the only limitations we had were the ones we placed on ourselves. Each  cyclist took a life altering injury and figured out a way to not only cope, but to persevere beyond the limits of what they ever thought possible. Whatever struggles my team and I were dealt paled in comparison to what this group of individuals endured daily. Our problems were simply obstacles that could be navigated around, over or through. This perspective is something I will carry with me whenever I'm up against the seemingly impossible, face an uphill battle, or need to dig down deep to overcome incredible odds. Nothing is impossible. And for that, I have this entire team to thank.

While this is a competition and one I'd certainly love to win, what I truly hope to convey from this story is a little bit of the inspiration I've felt working with such powerful individuals. I want to give insight into the importance of Adaptive Sports programs for our veterans returning from war severely injured, or to anyone with disabilities. Adaptive Sports saves lives, it's that simple, and that serious. 

To meet some of these amazing people, click on the link, Adapt & Conquer . And because this is a competition, if you enjoy it, please click the “like” button on the youtube page to vote for it. Not only will this help us in the contest, but it will go a long way to helping spread the very important message of adaptive sports programs for our severly wounded servicemen and women, and anyone facing a life altering injury. 

Jon Johnnidis 

 Director/DP Adapt & Conquer 

Crazy S.O.G: Bob Roberts on Support Rider Jorge Toledo

After 10 days on the road together, Bob Roberts, one of our support riders, found the perfect words to depict teammate and former marine, Jorge Toledo. 

Bob Roberts:

Crazy S.O.G. - Body Functions. It is right now very early in the morning so perhaps this is a good time to deal with unpleasantness. The photo attached is a selfie taken with my camera by a man who was asked nicely to take a picture of me. This man is Jorge Toledo. He does not represent unpleasantness, that will come later. He is from California and joined us in Oceanside. He is medically retired from the Marines. He is a husband and a father. He served in Iraq and survived a helicopter crash. He served in Afghanistan and survived a 250 foot helicopter drop-crash because they were hit by enemy fire. Not everyone did survive. He told me he remembers the helicopter rotor still turning and coming at him and he was sure he was going to be killed. Jorge was fortunate if you think sustaining an extensive number of life-threatening injuries and untold how many surgeries, and going through seemingly endless rehabilitation is fortunate. Of course it is fortunate. You would never guess how much this man has been through. Jorge is an incredible man, an incredible survivor. He is the resident animal. He is blessed with abundant energy, desire to win, and will to succeed. He eats everything in sight including large double cheeseburgers, ice cream Sundays, and everything else not banned by the Food and Drug Administration. Yet, he probably has a Body Mass Index (BMI) below a half per cent. Thunder thighs, huge hamstrings, colossal calfs, hair in the southern hemisphere yet follically-challenged above the equator. So, a curious question arises in mixed company. If he eats with such relish, why does he not show it? It is because he is working out extensively including serious bike riding. This is a family channel so I will use descriptive words but not too descriptive. We burn it up. We use food as fuel, and we burn it up. We get the urge just like you but when training and riding hard, there is nothing for us to deposit! Liquids yes, we can leave something behind. Solids, not so much. For our hand cyclists, this is another challenge because just getting out of their hand cycles and then back in afterwards is a chore. But we all get through it. We all finish up with our regular regular, and we all go back to riding. Tomorrow brings another day. Jorge will enjoy this delicate explanation because he is such a sensitive guy.

 

3,113 Miles: Mission Accomplished!

On April 10th we left San Diego with the goal of riding across the United States to raise funds and awareness for adaptive sports for wounded veterans. We knew this would be a trying experience of growth, camaraderie, and bravery, but projections never prepare you for such a surreal journey as this one. Each teammate brought his/her own energy, humor, fear, fragility, and vigor. We accepted each other faults and strengths alike and worked together towards one common goal. 

 "In some ways, I'm sorry it ended because I think life should more often be a group of people working hard together to accomplish something, knowing that others will benefit," Jim Rogers explained. After appropriate celebration for a mission accomplished, we will all return to our respective homes, but we will return a changed people, working towards the common goal of making a difference. The ride is over, but the wheels keep turning!

 

The Last 70 Miles: Pedaling All The Way

After riding 180 miles the the Cycle to the Sea's annual ride from Charlotte, NC to North Myrtle Beach, today we embark on our last 70 miles to Camp Lejeune where we will have a reception with the Semper Fi Fund. In a cross-country ride like Sea to Shining Sea, one can't help but grow both physically and mentally. That growth is exponential for a teenager like Jason Rogers. Jim Rogers has been lucky enough to as a parent to witness this change every pedal of the ride.

Jim Rogers- 

"So the last three days have emerged as the time Jason became a cyclist. Now Jason has been riding a bike for some time, and in the past when we ride together he pedals some of the time and the balance of the time I am pulling him. This last three days he just pedaled all the time. It's quite invigorating and inspiring to others when we can consistently stay at an 18-21 mph clip and he says: "Dad I could do this all day." He absolutely got it this week: we ride to have fun, yes; but we ride so that others who may not think they can ride, have the chance. I am so proud that he understands this and puts not only his heart into it but his physical effort as well. Tomorrow we leave at 6:00 am for the last leg on the Sea to Shining Sea ride from San Diego to Camp Lejeune. After cycling over 53 miles each day I asked if he had 70 more in him tomorrow. He replied: "Of course dad, we have to finish with these guys."

A Team For Wounded Veterans

Jim Rogers, one of our supporting cyclists, rode with his son, Jason, in honor of his son-in-law Lt. Zachary Cavitt, USN. Accompanied by so many veterans, Jim and Jason got a glimpse of the camaraderie that forms between soldiers when risking their lives together on the battlefield. 

Jim Rogers:

Today we reached Charlotte and were greeted by members of the Carolinas Hospital System. This team has really gelled and is just getting it done. We have Wednesday off and begin to Cycle to the Sea with 40 other riders on Thursday. The highlight of the day was receiving the Commandant's Coin from Four Star General and former Marine Commandant General James Amos. Everyone who spoke understood the mission: to spread the word about adaptive sports. But the General understood it so much deeper in his heart. He commented on how hard the Marines work to build a sense of team amongst the units and how devastating it is for a wounded soldier because not only is he or she battling an injury, but they are no longer part of the team. He recognizes that adaptive sports can fulfill the role of "team" and help injured persons everywhere heal. Bravo General! I was humbled to shake your hand and so proud to see my son receive your coin. Jason and I will ride for this team any day. And our deepest thanks to each of you. You are returning the fighting spirit to those battling to regain their lives and feel a part of a team accomplishing great things.

 

California to Carolina in Ten Days

Yesterday, April 19th after long cold nights, uphills and downhills (physical and emotional) route set backs and weather challenges, we completed the mission we set out to do. We rode side by side as the strong team the journey itself had created into the city of Charlotte, cheered on by the community and accompanied by local cyclists. Ten days after starting our ride in the Pacific Coast. We made it. East Coast, we’re here!

Pam and Her Service Dog Maui

Pam Kelly and her service dog Maui. Pam is a quadriplegic to admire with only the use of her left arm as she cycles across the country. She's only had Maui for 4 months but their bond is already very strong. Watching him run to Pam and check her over with affection after every ride is just endearing. Beyond that, Maui helps in every single way possible...He watches her back in crowds, turns the lights on and off, opens doors, gets her phone, and even feeds himself and puts everything away when he's done! In Pam's words "You can't find a man who's trained this well!" 

Director Jon Johnnidis Rides with the Night Crew

Our director and executive producer, Jon Johnnidis, joined the riders for 20 miles yesterday. He realized the difficulty of what these cyclists are accomplishing is truly unfathomable until you are in their shoes, riding side by side. 

A few words from Jon about his experience: "I rode with a team of 4 last night. Johnny RaglandJoey BashawAaron J. Harper, and Bob Roberts. I made it 20 miles out of the 46 they rode and was pushing hard to keep up the entire time, riding an average of 17mph. It was a nighttime ride and while the lead and rear truck were constantly chattering keeping the cyclists safe from traffic, both in back and in front, on the road at night was calm and peaceful. But those guys are power houses!"

Ken's Making Miles - Heroes and Angels

Director Jon Johnnidis with Ken Bettencourt of Heroe's and Angels 

Director Jon Johnnidis with Ken Bettencourt of Heroe's and Angels 

A few days ago we posted a picture of another road warrior, Ken Bettencourt, who was cycling solo across country to raise money to fight childhood cancer and help military families in need with his organization, Heroes and Angels . Well a few days ago, we found out that Ken was side swiped by a truck on I-10, a hit and run, and suffered some pretty bad damage to himself and to his bike. Thankfully Ken is recovering right now in the hospital and is determined to continue his mission no matter what! Our few moments with him convinced us of his character and while we're on a mission of our own, we want Ken to finish his. Check out this quick video we put together for Ken and their foundation, and if you get the urge, help Ken fix his bike and continue his ride by donating to his GoFundMe campaign. Here's to some quick healing Ken! 

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Bob Roberts: The Beauty in Hardships

Bob Roberts: "One of the gentlest verbal spankings that I can remember. I rode single from about 2:30 am to about 4:00 am today. Johnny gave up his chance to ride because we had no one fresh enough to drive so he took control of the lead vehicle. Previously, Google Maps took us 5 miles down a Farm to Market road that turned into a private gravel and sagebrush pothole collection. A u-turn took us back to our starting point and we rode. Today however, I am a single and bound and determined by our motto: "We can Do This!" The ride starts out fine. I have on multiple layers plus a balaklava head covering for warmth along with insulated winter gloves. The ride is supposed to be 28 miles, no big deal. The truck traffic is horrendous, high speed, and dangerous. Outside Carlsbad, NM, visibility breaks down; sight lines are minimal; fog sets in..peasoup. We are at about 25 miles and I find myself praying that we will continue so that I can finish this stretch. Did you notice the word "I" ? Did you notice that I was thinking only of myself? When the fog was so bad that Johnny could hardly see the other side of his windshield, the truck stopped. Jennifer popped out and came toward me. In the dark I do not think she saw my tears. I could not get off my bike. I had failed. I did not finish. I was bitter and disconsolate. She put her arms around me, hugged me and said, " You did great. It is too dangerous out here. You need to get in the truck so that we can protect you." The "I" part of this ceased at that moment and the "we" part of "We Can Do This" started again. That my friends is our Jennifer."

Pam Kelly: Inspiring to Conquer

Pam Kelly doesn’t know how much longer she’ll be able to ride because her one functioning shoulder is starting to give out. She hopes this one “last hurrah” will motivate other soldiers who are thinking of taking their lives to say, “Now it’s my turn to get out there.” She hopes her ending will be another wounded soldier’s beginning. #adaptandconquer #sea2sea