Monday, June 25, 2007

Amputee riders, skydivers come to Plano

By Kevin Hageland, Staff Writer(Created: Friday, June 22, 2007)

Adversity is a part of everyone’s life. But on Tuesday, Plano residents will have the opportunity to meet a group of amputees that have taken the adversity experienced in their life and used it as a springboard to inspire others.Joe Sapere, Abel Cruz, Cliff Clark and Beasey Hendrix are part of this year’s Amputees Across America, a cross-country biking and skydiving trek done to inspire others and to increase public awareness of amputees as people with active lifestyles.The quartet began its journey May 28, when they departed from the HealthSouth Tustin Rehab Facility in Tustin, Calif. The group rides in increments of 150 miles and will continue to do so until the 3,500-mile trip concludes July 25 in Vero Beach, Fla.On Tuesday, the Plano Fire Department will escort the group east down 15th Street from Coit to just beyond Independence, before heading to the HealthSouth Plano Rehabilitation Hospital at 2 p.m. Once there, Mayor Pro-Tem Sally Magnuson will be on hand to declare it Amputees Across America Day in Plano“I think the most important message these guys have for everyone is that having any kind of disability shouldn’t keep you down or ruin your life,” said Tammy Hermann, senior marketing liaison at HealthSouth Plano Rehabilitation Hospital.The members of Amputees Across America will visit HealthSouth Plano patients and members of the Dallas Amputee Network to share stories of overcoming their amputation to live healthy, fulfilling lives. Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics, as well as Synergy Orthotics and Prosthetics will be on hand with information about the latest advances in prosthetic devices.“It’s pretty special to see people with such active lifestyles, especially older people, do something like this,” said Ellen Fernandes, Organizer for DAN. “Some people may think there is nothing left for them, but these guys show that getting an amputation doesn’t mean your life is over; you can still get involved and have fun.”Fernandes said she has sent out group emails and newsletters about the visit, as well as advertising it on the organization’s website, but that she still has concerns about how many people will show up for the cause. Fernandes stated that many people will be working at the time of the event and will be unable to attend. Hermann said she has invited the American Homeschool Association to attend.Despite worries about attendance, Fernandes said she was looking forward to Tuesday. This won’t be the first time Fernandes has seen Amputees Across America come through Plano, as the group also visited the city in 2002, the first year of the first cross-country trek, and 2006.“It’s a very festive atmosphere when they come through, and people always seem to ask a lot of questions,” Hermann said. “And for the HealthSouth patients, I think it gives them inspiration and hope. It’s great seeing the smiles on our patients’ faces when they meet and talk with the riders.”And while the trip started with four riders, the Amputees Across America quartet is now a trio as Hendrix had to drop out due to complications with his diabetes. But the three remaining riders refused to alter or shorten their travel plans.The group is led by Sapere, who founded Amputees Across America in 2002. At 66, Sapere, who lost his leg in a 2000 skydiving accident, is the oldest rider in the group. Since that time, Sapere said his goal in life has been to demonstrate to other amputees that life can get better despite amputation. Sapere was in the Air Force and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Southern California.Riding alongside Sapere is the 55-year-old Cruz, who lost his leg after a motorcycle accident in August 2005. As a result of the accident, Cruz also suffered left shoulder, left femoral neck and pelvic fractures. But before Cruz could even walk again, he was pedaling a bike with the help of a stationary trainer. Cruz has been married to his wife Jerri for 29 years and has two daughters.Rounding out the trio of riders is Clark, or Doc, who became an amputee after complications from osteomylitis in 2005. Clark was in the Army for nine years and now serves as a home health and hospice medical director. He is also an avid cook.Since this annual cross-country trip is already sponsored by HealthSouth, Amputees Across America focuses more on spreading awareness than raising funds.“Obviously the group takes donations, but they never bring it up,” Hermann said. “But I guess after you affect even one life, that’s all the motivation you need.”After coming through Plano, Amputees Across America will be at the Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital in Dallas on Wednesday. The next day, the trio will continue their journey as they head to Tyler.“I think anyone that comes to the event will be absolutely inspired by these guys,” Hermann said. “We all have challenges in our life, but it’s great to see people that are able to overcome any obstacle.”Hence the triumvirate’s slogan of, “Dream it, believe it, achieve it.”For more information on the riders, visit: or to find out about DAN, visit:

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