This month we bring you a Woman who by definition is a hero. Her journey and story are sure to inspire and encourage you — meet Gretchen Evans.
Heroes Come in All Forms
In November 2020, ElliptiGO had the opportunity to give back, partnering with The Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) whose mission is to serve people with physical disabilities through sport and fitness with meaningful grants. Over the last 27 years, they have given over 30,000 grants to individuals with permanent physical disabilities worldwide. As part of this partnership, we donated 20% of ElliptiGO Bike sales for the month of November, with the goal of $70,000 in the form of bikes and Fluid 365 stationary trainers.
One of CAF’s programs, Operation Rebound®, focuses on strengthening the mental and physical well-being of veterans, military personnel, and first responders with permanent physical injuries by providing them opportunities to use sports and fitness to re-integrate into our communities and be empowered.
ElliptiGO met our goal of donating $70,000 worth of equipment to CAF, and we are so proud to introduce our very first recipient of that partnership, Gretchen Evans!
The epitome of humbleness, Command Sergeant Major Gretchen Evans mentioned nothing about her several awards, including the Presidential Unit Citation Medal, the Bronze Star for valor and heroism in combat in Afghanistan, six Meritorious Service Medals, Global War on Terrorism ribbons, and numerous other awards in her ElliptiGO interview.
She is one of the most decorated female veterans in U.S. history. Holding the highest rank an enlisted soldier can achieve, Command Sergeant Major, she was responsible for the personnel and security on all bases and forwarding operation bases in Afghanistan, overseeing more than 30,000 ground troops.
Gretchen served 27 years, with a life-changing event in 2006 while serving in Afghanistan. Command Sergeant Major Evans was severely wounded by incoming fire, with a rocket blast causing debilitating injuries, including internal and brain injury, along with the loss of all hearing.
Gretchen was inducted into the U.S. Veterans Hall of Fame on March 6, 2021 for her outstanding and meritorious service within the United States Army and within her community.
“I served 27 years in the military. My military occupational specialties were Intelligence Analyst, Counterintelligence Agent, and Paratrooper. I loved the military, serving my country, and taking care of my troops. I was a distance runner even before entering the military.
I was wounded in Afghanistan which resulted in a traumatic brain injury, hearing loss, and other injuries. This was devastating to me. I felt lost and without purpose for a very long time.
Sports, especially running marathons, long bike rides and hiking were what kept me from falling into despair. Being outside surrounded by beauty while working my body hard brought congruence to my life.
Recently, we moved to Brunswick, Maine which we intend to be our very first permanent home address. We moved 22 times in the course of our dual military careers. My husband is a Veteran as well. He served 25 years in the Navy as a Chaplain.
Adventure Racing As A Veteran
In addition to running, biking and hiking I recently entered into the sport of adventure racing. My team, Team UNBROKEN is a team of three combat-wounded veterans and two civilians. We competed in the World’s Toughest Race in 2019. It was an amazing experience.
Team UNBROKEN’s passion and purpose is to help others like us who have endured a life-changing injury, illness, or trauma to live their very best life. Our mantra is that our disabilities do not define us, or define what we are capable of accomplishing. We are not BROKEN!
We continue to race and hope to compete again in the next World’s Toughest Race. We are currently featured on Amazon Prime in its feature TV series, “The World’s Toughest Race – FIJI“.”
The World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji is an almost 417-mile adventure-packed race over 11 days. When Gretchen first applied to compete, she got an immediate “no.” Organizers wrote back, with concerns about the team’s underlying physical issues and the worry of team members getting hurt competing in what they call “the most elite race in the world.”
It wasn’t until after much negotiation that her team was allowed entry, as the very first disabled team in the history of “The World’s Toughest Race.” Once permitted to compete, the team trained for eight months and embarked on securing certifications such as wilderness first aid, whitewater rafting and ocean boating. We trained for activities such as stand-up paddling, mastering ascending a 140-foot cliff under a waterfall and jungle survival.
In an interview with The Times Record, Gretchen says:
“…[The] motivation wasn’t so much to surpass other teams, but rather to stifle the stigma that disabled or injured people can’t compete on the same playing field. “We wanted to open a door that had previously been shut. Just getting into the race was almost a victory for us, after all that work. Now whatever happens is beautiful.”
Discovering The Challenged Athletes Foundation
“I was introduced to the Challenged Athletes Foundation by a fellow Veteran. He told me that the organization supports and helps people who have “challenges” continue to be able to enjoy exercising safely.
I reached out to them because I was beginning to feel some wear and tear in my back and knees from years of running. I needed an alternative that allowed me to continue the benefits of running but without the pounding. CAF suggested the ElliptiGO and an indoor trainer so I could ride all year, especially in the winter months here in Maine.
Bonus Benefits on the GO
I received my bright red 8C ElliptiGO just before Christmas and named him Rudolph. I have ridden my ElliptiGO bike all over Brunswick, Maine.
Not only am I getting a hard workout on my 8C and relief from knee and back pain, but an amazing benefit is that I am able to see better standing up while riding and this has made me feel safer on the road.
As a deaf person, it is important that I am seen because I cannot hear cars coming. This was a true extra blessing.
I still ride with lights, wear bright colors, and of course a helmet, but being able to see over obstacles like parked cars has made my rides so much safer.
Gretchen’s Future in Fitness
Having the 8C has opened up a door to a lifetime of physical fitness for me. I no longer have to worry about what happens when I can no longer run which was always in the back of my mind. As I age, I might get slower, but I will always be able to ride. Well into my 90’s, I hope.
Staying physically healthy is paramount to me. It helps me mitigate my wounds of war, both physical and mental. If I am having a sad day as thoughts of my friends who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country fill my mind, I can hop on my 8C, go for a ride and remember them knowing that I am trying to live my best life in honor of them.
On Being the First Time CAF ElliptiGO Recipient
I am most grateful that I live in a country that has organizations such as CAF and ElliptiGO that seek to give back to others. They do good for others and that makes all the difference.
This is like a stone dropped in a lake, a ripple effect. I received a gift of an ElliptiGO bike, and I will stay healthy so I may continue to serve others too. It is a beautiful way of life.
I have set my eyes on a couple of long multi-day rides in the Spring and Summer this year. Maine has several of these types of rides. Also, long-time ElliptiGO rider, Doug Leland — who lives in the next town — just recently organized a local riding group for us GOers. We start in May with the hope the snow will be gone. I am looking forward to the fellowship and fun this group will offer.
From the bottom of my heart, I would like to say thank you to ElliptiGO for their generosity in donating bikes to the Challenged Athletes Foundation. I would also like to say thank you to CAF for supporting those of us, who are attempting to overcome our Challenges.”
ElliptiGO recognizes that the transition from military life to civilian life can be very difficult, especially when trauma from a combat injury and PTSD are involved. Thank you for your service, Command Sergeant Major Gretchen Evans!
CAF is in the process of reviewing all applications received for ElliptiGO bike and trainer grants. We expect to start shipping out more bikes and trainers to these deserving future ElliptiGO-athletes in April, and can’t wait to share some more stories about them!
Contributed by Elinor Yee – A rider considering herself lucky for each day on her ElliptiGO, drawing inspiration from fellow riders conquering obstacles big & small.
Contact ElliptiGO with nominations to Rider of the Month or share your own story. It may just be the next feature!