Local veteran gives children mobility, independence for Christmas

James Howard's group REACHcycles will give eighteen children adaptable bikes this weekend.

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — When James Howard looks at the row of bikes in the garage at his Chesterfield home, he sees the gifts he is giving. He also sees the priceless gifts he will get from every child who receives one.

“When I think I’m having a bad day, I can look back at any of these children and just be thankful for what I have and just put a smile on my face, and it helps me move forward,” Howard says.

James Howard spent much of his Army career at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
James Howard spent much of his Army career at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Howard, a Virginia Military Institute graduate and United States Army Ranger, was paralyzed in 2008 during a diving accident.

“I found that if I couldn’t be overseas and couldn’t pull a trigger, then maybe serving in another manner would be more important for me to focus my efforts,” Howard explains. “So, it’s been great.”

In 2014, Howard founded REACHcycles, an all-volunteer nonprofit organization aiming to empower children who are differently abled with cycles. It serves individuals ages 18-months to 21-years.

“The children have, you know, cerebral palsy, chromosomal disorders. A lot of them don’t even get to live to 5, 10-years-old,” Howard reflects. “We’ve given away to a triple amputee, a blind child, you name it. Various diseases and disorders that are out there.”

(Photo: James Howard)
(Photo: James Howard)

As Howard navigated his own ups and downs following his accident, he looked to an adaptable bike he received to stay connected.

“There’s so much a bike can do mentally and physically to improve your rehabilitation,” he says. “Be around family members and be able to participate in activities you never thought you’d be able to do.”

With the help of his mom Nancy Wellons, board members and volunteers who have raised money to buy the bikes, assemble them and make sure they are the perfect fit, Howard is about to make Christmas wishes come true.

“Just an amazing experience for everybody involved,” he says.

REACHcycles will give eighteen children adaptable bikes on December 11 from noon to 2 p.m. at the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center.

There are still ten children on the waiting list. Each bike costs between $400 and $1,200, depending on the number of adaptations needed.

Anyone who would like to give money or time to the cause can follow this link.

REACHcycles is the Richmond chapter of AMBUCS, a national group providing therapeutic trykes to people with disabilities.

Wellons started her own AMBUCS chapter in Lynchburg, Wheels on the James, to pay forward the support Howard experienced following his accident and provide children in that area opportunities for mobility and independence.

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