For Christiana Care respiratory therapist Donna MacVicar, it was a weekend she’ll never forget. For Sgt. Andrew Litz, it was a bridge to the life he had before suffering devastating injuries while serving in Afghanistan in 2005.
On a recent trip back to her hometown of Beaufort, S.C., MacVicar, a longtime avid cyclist, donated a high-end mountain bike to Litz during an event for severely injured veterans that was spearheaded by actor and musician Gary Sinise.
Beaufort, S.C., is the site of Lt. Dan Weekend, an annual four-day event for severely injured veterans that carries the name of Gary Sinise’s “Forest Gump” character, Lt. Dan Taylor. MacVicar had lived in Beaufort for many years and worked there as a firefighter.
“I wanted to go down for that event, and I wanted to go down for a bike ride. Instead of just going, I wanted to do something a little more from my heart,” MacVicar said.
When MacVicar approached the event organizers about donating a bike, they identified Litz, who had been a cyclist before his injury, as someone who would benefit from the donation. Working with Ryan Miller of Gretnabikes in Lancaster, Pa., who had helped MacVicar with her own bikes for many years, she assembled a Cannondale 29’ER mountain bike with tires that would work on either a normal road or a trail, and standard pedals instead of the typical cleat system. The bike shop gave MacVicar a generous 50 percent discount to purchase the bike for Litz.
As with many injured veterans, Litz, who was 25 when he was injured by an improvised explosive device, is trying to reclaim connections to the life he had before his injuries, which include traumatic brain injury and nerve damage in his neck. Cycling has become a therapeutic activity for him as he adjusts to the realities of his new life. The Lt. Dan Weekend organizers wanted to make the donation a public surprise, so they contacted Litz’s wife Heather, who helped ensure that he would be at the event.
The surprise was successful, and after the event MacVicar worked with a bike shop to disassemble, pack and ship Litz’s bike from South Carolina to his home in Texas.
“In Beaufort, this event is a really a big deal,” MacVicar said. “It’s a military town. Most of my friends there are retired military. It’s an event that’s full of fun and music, including performances by Sinise’s Lt. Dan Band.”
The event also evokes strong feelings among the gathering veterans. “I think I cried three-quarters of that day,” MacVicar said. “It was a very moving experience. I got to meet Gary Sinise, which was the icing on the cake. To see what he does for the veterans is just amazing.”
But most moving to her was getting to meet Andrew and Heather Litz. She now keeps a photo capturing that meeting on her mantel. “It was amazing, especially after I met him,” MacVicar said. “Everything he’s going through, and he’s going to be going through it for the rest of his life … . His wife said to me that’s the first time he’s smiled in years.”