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Crossing the country


LO's Jonathan Puskas plans to ride his bike across the country to help wounded veterans

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Jonathan Puskas rides his bike on April 11 at a RAAM Challenge event in Southern California, where his team rode 400 miles around the Salton Sea.Lake Oswego resident Jonathan Puskas is doing something rather remarkable, and you can participate.

Starting June 15, Puskas, 42, will embark on an extraordinary journey in the Wounded Warriors Race Across America by being a member of Team 4Mil. The team (actually, the group is fielding two teams) helps wounded veterans rehabilitate from their injuries through cycling, mentorship and camaraderie. As a culmination of each year’s efforts, the organization supports two teams that compete in the annual Race Across America.

Puskas’ team hopes to cross the country, from Pacific to Atlantic, in five days.

Since 2001, more than 50,000 men and women have been injured in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. On June 15, Puskas, a U.S. Navy Commander, Lakeridge High School graduate and local resident, wants to help ensure they are not forgotten. Puskas and seven other veterans will race bicycles across the United States to raise funds and awareness for wounded veterans. People can assist the cause by making contributions to the team.by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Lake Oswego's Jonathan Puskas stands in uniform during his tour in Kuwait and Iraq, where he was responsible for all harbor defense and port security for U.S. forces in Kuwait, as well as security for the Al Basra Oil Terminal. Puskas is back on active duty as a Naval commander.

The Race Across America, which Puskas called the “world’s toughest bicycle race,” will send more than 200 competitors on a 3,000-mile route stretching from Oceanside, Calif., near San Diego, to Annapolis, Md. Athletes race continuously day and night, on their own power or share the challenge with a team, and a large crew following in support vehicles with food and supplies. These adventurers brave heat, wind, thunderstorms, altitude, dark of night, fatigue and sleep deprivation, cross several major mountain ranges and raise more than $1 million dollars for charity.

“To be honest, even as a service member,” Puskas said, “the numbers seemed abstract at times until my good friend Lt. Col. Mike Buckley deployed to Afghanistan last year in command of an explosive ordnance disposal battalion. His men and women were ‘the bomb squad’ for the eastern half of the country. Unfortunately, five of his soldiers returned in flag-draped coffins and 15 returned with life-altering injuries. I was profoundly affected by Mike’s losses and wanted to know how I can help.

“One of the things we’ve learned about veterans returning home is that we can help by providing outlets which reinforce a sense of inclusion,” he said. “I’ve been blessed with a body built for endurance athletics as well as the good fortune to avoid injury while serving overseas.”

Currently a Navy commander with 19 years of service, Puskas has been recalled to active duty as the chief of staff at Coastal Riverine Group ONE in Coronado, Calif. His organization oversees the manning, training and equipping of nearly 2,000 sailors on the West Coast and overseas.

When not in the military, he serves as a strategic marketer/planner with a background in health care and wellness industries, previously with Intel Corp. 

“I’ll be returning to Lake Oswego following completion of my active duty recall in September and will return to the civilian workforce at that time,” he said.

The first Team 4Mil group in RAAM, called the Warriors, is an eight-person all combat-wounded team supported by Walter Reed Medical Center and Team Red White and Blue consisting of five hand cyclists (those without use of legs) competing with three upright cyclists.

The second group has eight members, four Team 4Mil racers and four British racers on an “allied forces” team. Their goal is to break the course record and win the eight-person team division.

Puskas said, “Our true objective always remains a focus on raising awareness for combat-wounded veterans from both countries while recognizing the strong alliance between the U.S. and British military members and veterans.”

As a member of the allied forces Team, Puskas will race three hours per day averaging more than 24 miles per hour as the team seeks to break the course record.

“During the five days of RAAM, I’ll personally ride 400 miles, averaging greater than 24 miles per hour,” Puskas said.

The allied forces team expects to reach the finish in Annapolis in just about five days; the combat-wounded team is expected to finish in just about eight days.

For those wishing to support the team, which is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, and follow its progress or make donations, visit the team’s website at team4mil.org.