When you see her sitting around a table, laughing it up with a group of veterans after a long day of riding, you can easily picture her being the life of the party wherever she is. The contagious smile and upbeat aura that seems to rub off on others is almost tangible. But Bianca Reynolds, like so many of the Ride2Recovery participants, has been through hell and back. Being as lively and functional as she is serves as an inspiration to all who are blessed to be in her company… especially if they know her story.
“In 2011 I deployed with the 82nd Airborne Division and was sexually assaulted by a fellow service member — actually, someone in my chain of command,” Bianca explains. “There was a court martial and it was a very long process. It happened in December of 2011 during deployment. I had already been in the army about a year and a half.”
As awful as this sounds, it’s an all-too-common theme that’s been echoed by so many women in the military; they sign up to serve their country, and end up wounded by the not-so-friendly fire of their superiors. In Bianca’s case, it led to her being sent home from Afghanistan, and into a downward spiral that almost ended her life via suicide. “I was taking pain killers, sleeping pills and also physically hurting myself,” she describes, speaking slowly as if still haunted by every memory she conjures. “When I used these substances, I would lose all sense of my self-worth and accomplishments. All I saw was the bad things that had happened, and how I didn’t want to remember them … and how I would never get better.”
Here’s an interesting fact about Bianca Reynolds: She’s strong. Warrior strong. Strong enough to go to rehab and come out the other side in fantastic spiritual shape. “I went to rehab and got better than I think I was even before joining the Army. I was motivated, ambitious and had a lot of goals that I made a point of reaching. I loved myself and loved my life and felt like I knew who I was and what I was supposed to be doing. I had a purpose and it was amazing.”
The new goal Bianca set for herself was to attend EOD school (Explosive Ordnance Disposal training), one of the most difficult in the military. Although she made it pretty far in the process, she was ultimately unable to make it all the way through. She patiently waited for her next orders, which had her eventually heading overseas to join the 173rd Airborne in Vicenza, Italy. A beautiful place to be stationed for sure, but as Bianca has found repeatedly during her service time, danger is always right around the corner.
“In July 2014, I had an airborne operation, and had noticed I was really uncomfortable all day with back discomfort,” reflects Bianca. “The parachutes we wear are well over 100 pounds including the main and the reserve. With the combat equipment attached, it’s another 25 to 30 pounds. It’s a lot, and I don’t weigh that much. I jumped and had a really bad landing, resulting in traumatic brain injury (TBI), and I also sustained a back injury which has led to recurring nerve pain throughout my lower limbs. I have migraines along with memory and cognitive issues from the TBI.”
Added to these injuries, Bianca also found herself in a relationship with a “not-so-stellar” man, whose physical and mental abuse essentially stripped her of all of the progress she’d made in rehab. She became very ill and lost 30 pounds, eventually being diagnosed with Chron’s Disease after an initial diagnosis of anorexia. She was back to the bottom.
When you’re on the bottom, there are two paths to take: stay down and accept this as your fate, or search for the light and climb to it. Bianca the Warrior looked upward, saw a glimmer and ultimately pulled herself up and out of the pit with the help of Ride2Recovery. And as dramatic as that may sound, it is absolutely the truth.
“Ride2Recovery is one of the greatest things I’ve ever done in my entire life,” Bianca says, with a smile that is sincere and heartfelt. “I think about all of the things I’ve been through — the pain, the emotional as well as physical. There are so many times when I’m riding and I think, ‘This is so hard, I’m so tired and I just want to give up,’ and then I think about all of the other things I’ve been through — and I’m still here. The ride is going to end eventually, and when it does there won’t be the pain and sadness like the other things I’ve dealt with at this point. All of these people that are here are my family. I have made enough friends for a lifetime here. They’ve reached out to me during my hardships more than my own family has. It’s given me a purpose. I honestly don’t know where I’d be right now without Ride2Recovery.”
R2R has become the support group, family and friend to so many veterans who were lost and prepared to give up. The war-fueled adrenaline within each of them that needs redirection finds its place. The camaraderie they miss so dearly is all around them. The mental support and feeling of accomplishment they yearn for is ready-built in finishing their daily ride. No one sums up these truths better than Bianca.
“It has opened me up to be a more sociable person in a good way. Everyone here is your friend and family, and they will take care of you — no matter what. If you can’t go on anymore, they’ll be by your side, pushing you to keep going. Whether biking from Arlington, VA to Manassas, or if it’s in your home and you think you can’t go on anymore and just want to end everything. They will be there for you every time to hold you, help you or push you to get to the finish line. It’s OK to make friends and to be close to people. Ride2Recovery is a huge part of my life.”
It’s been quite a ride for Bianca Reynolds. It’s now a ride she has a good handle on, and with the help of R2R and the bonds she’s made, she will never have to ride alone again.
Project Hero Magazine will be providing more interviews and stories from Ride2Recovery participating veterans throughout the coming months. Please check back soon for the next installment, and thank you for your support.
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