By: LuAnn Georgia, Warrior Transition Command
Ashley Crandall never questioned her decision to join the Army. She joined under delayed enlistment at 16, and was on active duty after she turned 17. Crandall served for over ten years before retiring for medical reasons.
During her time in the Army Crandall worked as a helicopter mechanic, serving three combat tours in Iraq, and three weeks before she was supposed to return home from her third deployment she realized that “something was wrong, something had changed inside”. She noted that in addition to dealing with the trauma of combat, she was the survivor of two separate incidences of sexual assault. All of the trauma caught up with her and she was diagnosed with PTSD and hospitalized on Christmas day. On New Year ’s Day she was medevaced to Walter Reed where she spent the next three years recovering and rehabilitating.
These days Crandall spends much of her time training, cycling and working with other Soldiers and Veterans to help with their recovery. When ask about how she became interested in cycling, she said “while at Walter Reed a friend talked me into doing a bike ride with the organization Face of America”. Although she hadn’t been on a bike in over 15 years, she borrowed a mountain bike and went on to complete the two-day, 110 mile ride. The same friend, who talked Crandall into her first ride, convinced her to get involved with the organization Ride 2 Recovery (R2R). She shared that R2R challenges offered more intense rides ranging from 300-500 miles, lasting up to six days and that she has completed 20 of these challenges since 2009.
Crandall goes on to say “Ride 2 Recovery saved my life”. She adds that cycling serves more than one purpose in her life “not only does it help me physically, it also acts as therapy. It’s not stressful and you have people that you ride next to who you can talk with but when you start pedaling all the stress and frustration goes into the pavement.” She added that cycling with R2R is different because “it’s a ride, not a race and no one rides faster than the slowest rider. The slowest rider sets the pace.”
When ask about her feelings towards Warrior Games Ashley said “my original goal was just to get here but once I made the team my goals started to change”. Crandall hopes to medal but adds “the competition is a little intimidating. It’s my first race ever”. She goes on to say that she likes being around the other athletes because “you don’t need to explain yourself to anyone. No one is asking questions because they already know.”
Training for Crandall includes working with a private coach at least four days a week for up to two hours a day. Outside of training and competing at Warrior Games, she is also working to establish a daily cycling program at the Philadelphia Veterans Administration. The goal is to get other disabled Veterans engaged in their own recovery.
Although Crandall prefers to work “behind the scenes” she knows she has to share her story in order to help herself as well as others in the recovery and rehabilitation process. Her greatest reward comes from “helping others grow and gain confidence”.