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Story Last modified at 5:54 p.m. on Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Biking with Bush
Eagle River's Hoffmeister adds Texas event to accomplishments

Alaska Star


Wounded Warrior soldier Col. Dave Haines, former President George W. Bush, Wounded Warrior soldier Lt. Col. Patty Collins, and Wounded Warrior Soldier Lt. Col. Marc Hoffmeister, of Eagle River, stop for a photo during the Warrior 100, a mountain biking trek April 25-27 in Texas.
Photo courtesy of Paul Morse

Lt. Col. Marc Hoffmeister tackled grueling endurance races like the ECO- Challenge in Fiji before a roadside bomb in Iraq badly damaged his left arm and hand in 2007.

After his injury, Hoffmeister organized a climb with four other Wounded Warriors and his wife on a climb of Mount McKinley – a feat that got him voted National Geographic magazine's first Reader's Choice Adventurer of the Year in 2010.

Today Hoffmeister, who lives in Eagle River, commands an engineering battalion at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson

Given those military and outdoor endurance credentials, it's not shocking that Hoffmeister traveled to Texas last month for a mountain-biking trip with former President George W. Bush and surprise guest Lance Armstrong.

Still, Hoffmeister said by phone last week, it was really cool.

Over the course of the 100-kilometer trail ride near the Mexican border, Hoffmeister stayed with the lead group of eight or 10 at the front of the pack.

Who was in that group? Oh, just the former president and Armstrong, winner of seven consecutive Tour de France races. Hoffmeister said he spent more time chatting with Bush than Armstrong – "he's not quite as talkative as the president might be" – and got a kick out of the secret service guys riding with pistols on their hips and what looked to be border patrol on horseback, paralleling the high-profile group for an extra layer of security.

He also was impressed with the former president's skills.

The president "can ride," Hoffmeister said.

But it was his comrades on the ride, the other injured veterans, who really provided the inspiration, Hoffmeister said.

"It's never over. I've got all kinds of challenges every day. The pain's always there," he said. "When you see these other guys and you know they're dealing with it too it always inspires you, you kind of feed off each other."

One of the 15 participants was a full-arm amputee who rode with a shock absorber for a bicep. Hoffmeister himself lost five inches of nerves and his elbow bone. He rides a modified mountain bike that allows him to brake and shift gears with his right hand. His left hand fatigues easily, so he's "asymmetrical" on the bike.

Hoffmeister underwent nine surgeries in four months after his nearly fatal encounter with that improvised explosive device in Al Hilla four years ago. His wife, Gayle, said he has always been driven but pushed himself even harder after being wounded because he didn't want to be defined by his injury.

"He inspires me every day," said Gayle Hoffmeister's wife, who is also a competitive endurance athlete. "I live with him. I know he's in pain every day."

Her husband was "extremely impressed" by former President Bush and honored to be involved in the ride, she said.

Fourteen wounded warriors joined the former president at the Lajitas Resort in Big Bend Ranch State Park for three days of mountain biking April 25-27 as part of the George W. Bush Presidential Center's Social Enterprise Initiative. The event brought together warriors representing the Ride2Recovery, World Team Sports, the Challenged Athletes Foundation, and the Wounded Warrior Project to highlight the continuing commitments they have made to support our wounded, according to a write-up Hoffmeister provided the AW2 blog, the official blog of the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program.

Hoffmeister was invited on the Texas ride by John Wordin, founder of Ride2Recovery, a series of events held to raise money to adapt bikes for wounded veterans to use in their recovery.

"Cycling is great because no matter what your injury, you can do it," Wordin said. "You can have a guy missing a leg, missing an arm, you can have guys missing a leg and an arm, you can have spinal injuries, a brain injury and there's a way to adapt a bike they can ride."

Then, Wordin continued, you can put all those people with different injuries on different bikes together "and they can ride in one group down the road, all on the same playing field, and they're all doing something any normal person can do."

Wordin participated in the Texas mountain-biking event. The former president set a "pretty good tempo" for an average rider, said Wordin, a former professional road cyclist. A local guide had to quit on the event's second day, Wordin said.

"So President Bush would oftentimes be out in front because we had no guide," he said. "I would have Marc ride behind President Bush and the Secret Service guys. President Bush would go flying off the trail, he'd crash, and there would be Marc coming right behind him and riding right past him."

Hoffmeister was the most talented mountain biker in the group and could ride through sections of trail that everybody else had to walk, Wordin said. And Bush brought a good sense of humor to the whole thing.

"Even though every time he crashed he'd have like five Secret Service guys rushing to his aid, he was good-humored about the fact, here are all these guys missing arms and legs that are leaving him in the dust," he said.

Hoffmeister's original post for the AW2 blog is online here:

This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, May 11, 2011.