Double-Amputee Marine Veteran, Toran Gaal, Wheels his Way Across the Country

© Michael Doyle/McClatchy DC/TNS Toran Gaal, a former Oakhurst, Calif., resident, lost both legs to an IED while serving as a Marine in Afghanistan.
© Michael Doyle/McClatchy DC/TNS Toran Gaal, a former Oakhurst, Calif., resident, lost both legs to an IED while serving as a Marine in Afghanistan.

Toran Gaal is tired, like you wouldn’t believe, but he’s also pumped. He’s got some “Ooh Rah!” for sure. 

Having wheeled his way across the country in a handcycle, the double-amputee Marine veteran and former Oakhurst, Calif., resident is now in striking distance of his goal. Soon, he will roll into Arlington National Cemetery, the end of one remarkable journey and the start, he hopes, of another.

“The only limits in life,” Gaal said, “are the ones we set on ourselves.”

It’s a practiced line, in a way. The 28-year-old Gaal is preparing, once his ride is done, to launch himself as a full-time motivational speaker. But he’s earned every aphorism. The ride that started June 1 in downtown San Diego and that concludes Aug. 2 at Arlington’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier will have taken him some 3,800 miles and through an internal terrain few can fathom.

“Physically, I think I was prepared as much as I could be,” Gaal said, “but I definitely am at a fatigued point. … Every day is tough now.”

Gaal was sitting in a wheelchair last Friday and speaking in the lobby of The English Inn, a hotel near the University of Virginia campus. It’s a civilized, tea-serving place where parents stay and become all poignant and teary-eyed when dropping their children off for college or summer camp.

The day before, Gaal and his teammate, Brian Riley, had been 81 miles away, in Lexington, Va. There, Gaal had spoken to the earnest and innocent cadets of the Virginia Military Institute. A little after 1 a.m., his standard rousing time during much of the cross-country crucible, Gaal had hit the road.

Riley, a fellow Marine veteran and single amputee, drove the gray support Town and Country vehicle festooned with signs. Of course, there was the Marine Corps’ globe and anchor. One sign advertised Gaal’s website and Twitter handle, RideToranRide. Another sign called attention to Peter Harsch Prosthetics.

But while he cranked himself along on his 22-pound Top End handcycle, Gaal was mostly alone with his thoughts. No music distracted him.

“Just life,” Gaal said, when asked what he thought about while riding. “How can I grow? How can I use this experience to benefit?”

Perseverance, Gaal tells himself. Strength. Indomitable spirit.

Gaal and Riley made it to Charlottesville before sunup, enough time to rest and do some laundry before a television reporter showed up for the latest in the string of feature stories that have accompanied him along the way.

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Source: Tribune News Service | Michael Doyle

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