Marine Corps veteran and PVA Racing team member preps his cycle before a race. Photo by PVA Racing Team.
A born athlete, Marine Corps veteran and PVA Racing Team member had high hopes for his future in adaptive sports
Solomon "Butch" Revils remembers the moment he saw a handcycle in the hallway of his VA clinic.
“It was the dinosaur years then,” Revils says of the early years following his life-changing injury in 1988. “There weren’t as many sports programs as there are today.”
By 1988, Revils had served six years in the Marine Corps and had risen to the rank of Sergeant. But returning home from a summer barbeque on his motorcycle one evening, Revils swerved to avoid a deer and crashed. Just hours later, he underwent a dramatic surgery to amputate both of his legs.
Forced to adjust to this completely new way of life without his legs, Revils found the resolve to adapt and overcome. A born athlete who had excelled in physical sports like football and wrestling, he’d hoped adaptive sports would be the outlet to rediscovering a full life. “I was still figuring out what I was going to do for myself, but I knew what it was when I saw that handcycle in the hallway,” Revils says.
Revils received his first handcycle in 1995, the same time he first met Jody Shiflett, adaptive sports programming consultant for Paralyzed Veterans of America. The pair – both from the Virginia Beach area – began riding together on occasion, and Shiflett shared his knowledge about the adaptive sports programs in development at the VA.
“At the time, I was married with two young kids, and I was busy as my kids were playing sports,” he says. “I faded out of the riding community for a while, but then my kids grew up and were gone.”
In 2011, Revils received an unexpected call from Shiflett, who wanted to know if he still had the bike. Revils had held on to it but admitted it had been gathering dust in his garage.
“Jody wanted me to ride in the Army Ten-Miler and Marine Corps Marathon,” he says. “I thought he was kidding. I hadn’t ridden in maybe 15 years, and I had put on about 50 pounds.”
Revils was not convinced he could even muster the strength to finish the races, but as he began training again, he realized he never wanted to stop. He joined Paralyzed Veterans Racing for the popular Washington, D.C., military races and has been part of the team ever since.
“There has been a revitalization of my spirit,” Revils says. “The athlete came back, and it’s been so encouraging to see all of these programs for disabled athletes. The community has exploded, and these racers are not just out riding in parades. They’re serious, and they’ve morphed into some amazing athletes. It’s highly competitive, fun and the camaraderie is unmatched.”
While he has yet to claim a spot on a winner’s podium, Revils acknowledges the personal accomplishments have been reward enough. He has lost 50 pounds, hired a personal coach and purchased a new handcycle. Now in his 50s, his main goals involve keeping an adequate pace with his younger teammates and beating his previous year’s recorded time in the annual races he competes in.
“This is something I can see myself doing for the rest of my life,” Revils says. “I don’t need a reason to ride; I just go ride. Being an amputee, I’m an outsider but an insider on the team, but I don’t think I could ride with any team other than Paralyzed Veterans.”
Much has changed in the nearly 30 years since his injury, but Revils has not given up on encouraging younger veterans with new injuries to take advantage of the opportunities he didn’t have when he was first injured.
“If only they had these programs when I was in my 30s; now so many of years of my youth are gone,” Revils says. “What’s most important is that you get up and live your life. I had to look at my injury and realize that legs don’t come back. At some point, you’re going to have to start living your life, and sports is a great place to start.”
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com