KEY WEST, Florida — Army medic Rachael Rodgers was among more than three dozen military personnel who participated in the 2016 Soldier Ride in the Florida Keys, many used specially adapted bicycles for riders who had lost one or more limbs.
Rodgers, 27, was bitten by a brown recluse spider in 2013 at Fort Polk in Louisiana. Doctors tried to save her limb and encouraged her to participate in last year's soldier ride as part of her treatment.
"When I was here the last time, I still had my leg," Rodgers said. "It didn't work very well and I actually had a harder time maneuvering around then, so I did not have much fun."
Despite months of treatment, a decision was made to surgically remove the affected portion of the limb last summer. She participated in the Keys Soldier Ride for a second time this year.
"To be in not as much pain this time around made a huge difference to me," she said.
The riders also made a stop at the Dolphin Research Center to interact with the marine mammals.
"I think the sensitivity is a big thing because (the dolphins are) so perceptive of the injuries and people's swimming abilities," said Rodgers, who got a kiss and a dorsal fin tow from Tursi, a female dolphin at the center. "Especially for people with brand new injuries who aren't very comfortable in the water or are hurting."
Participants pedaled across the Seven Mile Bridge, the longest span of 43 that help comprise the Overseas Highway. The ride, which was organized by the Wounded Warrior Project, ended Sunday.
"If Rachael had not been serving at Fort Polk, she likely would not have been bitten by the spider," said project spokesperson Nick Kraus. "So it's appropriate we support her recovery."
Online: Wounded Warrior Project: http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org