Sherry Fidel linked her fellow soldiers with their loved ones back home as a telephone network operator during Desert Shield in Iraq.
Two decades later, the Oklahoma City woman was on the receiving end of a different connection — one between her physical therapist and a national nonprofit group that works to help disabled vets regain mobility.
On Saturday, Fidel took her first spin around the Cox Convention Center on a therapeutic tricycle that she hopes will allow her to overcome the degenerative muscle disease that took her legs away.
“I have to stay active, but even with a treadmill I can't stand independently — I have to hold onto the sides,” Fidel said between tears after her inaugural ride. “This gives me the opportunity to exercise and get back to a normal life, and I'm so grateful.”
Fidel and about 50 other veterans received the tricycles Saturday as part of AmTryke Celebration Day, a function of the AMBUCS organization and the public face to the group's national meeting in Oklahoma City.
Volunteers for the nonprofit help raise money year-round to fund the annual giveaway, said Rick Kerr, national president for 2011-12.
Another 56 “nontraditional” riders — nonveterans, like children, who are suffering from physical or mental disabilities — also received AmTrykes during the event.
There have been more than a dozen different models of AmTryke developed, including some that can be pedaled by hand, Kerr said. In general, the trikes are stable, maneuverable pieces of equipment that can be operated by those suffering from paralysis or even missing limbs.
“They are designed to be used (with) a therapist, and they are designed to help change the tone of riders' muscles,” he said. “Our basic thrust is: Everyone deserves to get out there on a bike. They can be on the roads just like everybody else.”
Fidel retired from the U.S. Army after 20 years of service, including 10 in the Signal Corp and 10 working with recruiting command. She was working pharmaceutical sales and raising her sister's two children in 2006 when she began having troubles with her feet and legs.