HINSDALE, N.H. >> With only one leg, one local veteran continues to ride his motorcycle, and now he is upgrading to a Harley-Davidson thanks to one philanthropic event.
It was another day on the job in October of 2009 when James Clark, 25 at the time, was traveling in an eight-wheeled armored fighting vehicle — a Stryker — through Afghanistan. The vehicle was moving along a dried-up river bed when the pressure of the Stryker triggered an IED that had been planted beneath the ground. Within moments following the explosion, which Clark cannot fully recollect, though he was in shock he twisted a clamp around what was left of his left leg in an attempt to stop the bleeding. He controlled his breathing and waited for a helicopter to airlift him to the hospital on base. The following moments were a blur for Clark: The doctors induced a coma and two weeks later his leg was amputated from the knee down. The hospital was home to Clark for about one month.
At the time of his injury, Clark was a husband and father to two, Izeyah, 9, and Samarra, 10. His family and parents supported him while he was in the hospital in Washinton, D.C.
Before the explosion, he had served in the U.S. Army as an infantryman from 2003 to 2011. He earned a Purple Heart and a Combat Infantry Badge.
"It was long and frustrating to go from a squad leader in Afghanistan to bound to a wheel chair over night, it was pretty much a shock," said Clark.
For two years, he regained his strength through physical therapy for two to three hours Monday through Friday. That was where he learned how to walk with a prosthetic leg, which he now wears as soon as he wakes up until he lays his head down for bed. He also had occupational therapy where he relearned how to perform everyday tasks, such as preparing a meal and solving puzzles. Clark said it was because of his mother's support that he was able to move forward through the traumatic experience.
Once he regained a great deal of his physical, emotional and mental strength he had another son, Brendyn, who is now 4 years old, and remarried his high school sweetheart, Amy.
Today he will be an honoree at this year's 6th annual Boston Wounded Veterans Ride where motorcyclists will ride 25 miles throughout the North Shore, ending at Suffolk Downs in East Boston in order to raise money for this year's six local, severely wounded veterans. This year's honorees are Sgt. Kirstie Ennis, SSgt. Clark, Sgt. Peter Damon, SPC Sean Pesce and Sgt. Eric Rodriguez.
The proceeds raised go towards housing modifications, recreational objects, cars, basic living items, and other things that help improve the quality of life for a wounded war hero. Clark decided he would be using his share for a new Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
"I want to be able to ... I love to ride, that's kind of my ... that's how I take a time out," said Clark. "I used to ride a lot when I was younger and kind of stopped when I got hurt, but then I tried it again a couple years ago and I got the hang of it."
Clark said it seemed like a "no brainer" to request a Harley as he is not only an avid bike enthusiast, but generally enjoys an active lifestyle.
"I've always been active. When I was hurt, I was 25 years old and there was no way I was going to be a vegetable, it wasn't really an option. I have to maintain ability and mobility in order to maintain sanity," Clark said.
Aside from riding his bike, he enjoys snowmobiling in the winter and walking through the woods or spending time in his yard. This honor highlights Clark's service, but also allows him to ride a Hog.
"All of the people who organize this event don't get a paycheck for that; it's all volunteer. I think it's amazing," said Clark. "It says there's a lot of people out there that recognize a lot of sacrifice that people have made, it just shows a great deal of appreciation by a lot of people."
Clark was nominated by someone he grew up with and who regularly attends the annual event. Andrew Biggio, founder of the Boston Wounded Veteran Ride, said at the event's inception he would select veterans from New England that he found while searching through the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Now, Biggio accepts nominations from anyone for amputee veterans within New England and then holds a charity bike ride in honor of them. Clark will be the first New Hampshire resident honored through this event.
"It's important to me because many of us came home from Afghanistan and Iraq unscathed, but these guys have to wake up every day with those wounds," said Biggio. "It's important to honor those who did sacrifice their limbs for this country."
Biggio spoke with all of the honorees about what their needs are and then arranged to make their "wishes" come true. Saturday morning Clark will receive a customized, modified 2017 Harley-Davidson motorcycle. The clutch was switched over and the brakes were changed to make it accessible for Clark and his prosthetic leg. The bike was also custom painted with his Army veteran logo, the Second Infantry Division logo. In addition, his wife will receive a 2017 Ford Fusion.
This year, Biggio expects that 7,000 people will attend the event, as they have had thousands attend in previous years, rain or shine. For those who would like to join the event, it cost $20 to participate, passengers are $10 and registration begins at 8:30 a.m.
"I'd encourage people to show up because we want to give these wounded veterans the best welcome home they could ever think of," said Biggio.
According to Biggio, everyone that makes this event possible is unpaid, and he says there are approximately 100 volunteers for this year's event.
Boston's Annual Wounded Vet Bike Run was inspired by Cpl. Vincent Mannion Brodeur and began in 2011. Brodeur is the recipient of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. While serving in Iraq in 2007 with the 82nd Airborne he was critically injured by an insurgent's improvised explosive device and later endured 40 operations and a year-long coma. The bike run that was in honor of Brodeur raised money to provide him with a handicapped accessible living space. Ever since, the event has been dedicated to different veterans.
Since the Boston Wounded Veteran Bike Run's inception, more than $500,000 has been raised to support New England wounded veterans who have suffered traumatic injuries while serving in Afghanistan or Iraq. Each honoree requires different assistance, proceeds are used to better the quality of life for the veterans whether it be housing modifications, basic living needs, cars, recreational needs and more.
Some of the regular struggles that Clark faces are around being comfortable, such as finding the right fit for his prosthetic and experiencing phantom pains and some skin irritation. Overall, despite some discomfort, Clark has a positive outlook.
"There are more good days than bad, there are always going to be issues, but now there are more good days than bad," Clark said.
He will attend his first Boston Wounded Veteran Bike Run today.
"I'd like to thank Andrew and all the volunteers that put all the work into doing this vet ride every year," said Clark.
Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275