WASILLA — Team Wounded Warrior is marching toward the upcoming Tesoro Iron Dog despite a post-Christmas visit from a grinch.
The race team, made up of James Hastings and Charlie Potter, is riding over a bump in their trail to the Tesoro Iron Dog after one of the team’s snowmachines and trailer was stolen this past week. The Wounded Warrior program provides services and support for U.S. soldiers and veterans wounded in action.
Potter pulled into Tailgaters Sports Bar around 10 p.m. on Tuesday to pick up sponsorship donations and say hello to some friends. Little did he know a quick stop would result in the team’s trailer and one of its snowmachines being stolen in the few minutes he was inside.
“I went outside to take off and noticed my trailer was gone,” Potter said. “I thought maybe one of my buddies at the bar thought it would be cool to move my trailer on me. Then I thought about it and the fact that I had it locked. So, it couldn’t have been one of them.”
Potter said only 10 to 15 minutes had passed after the last time he checked on the snowmachine. Still thinking a friend might be pulling a prank, he drove around the bar looking for the trailer, but the search came up empty.
Potter returned to the bar, told his friends and jaws began to drop.
The next day, Potter and Hastings received a tip that a trailer was left abandoned along Seldon Road Extension. Upon arriving at the scene, they found their trailer, but the snowmachine was nowhere in sight.
“As far as that all goes I could really care less about losing the snowmachine,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of good help to get back out here and it’s not the first time we’ve had a mishap in this whole deal.”
Earlier in the year, the team had an accident that resulted in a rolled trailer, two totaled snowmachines and another machine having extensive damage, Potter said. Despite the bumpy trail, Potter said pushing past challenges is what his race is all about.
“I’m not doing this [the Iron Dog] to win. I’m doing it to prove it can be done,” he said.
A veteran of the Iraq war, Potter said he’s been through a lot more than stolen snowmachines and wrecked trailers.
As a heavy equipment operator and .50-caliber gunner, Potter was part of convoy heading out to assess a location for troop housing, he said. Along the way, his convoy met some serious obstacles in the form of an IED (improvised explosive device) and then a roadblock. The convoy was forced to turn around and travel back through the same area where they knew trouble was waiting.
“I got told that you’re probably going to get hit on the way out of here,” he said.
That proved prophetic when an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) flew into the vehicle and the explosion tore into his left arm. Three grenades came next and the explosion ripped into his face.
“It all went to recovery mode after that,” he said. “I had a bunch of surgeries, a year and a half in the hospital and two more years in and out of the hospital. It’s been a long road, but once again I’m doing this to prove the fact that you can be put in the dirt and get right back up do it again.”
Potter’s never-give-up attitude translates well to the Wounded Warrior Project for which the team is riding and hopes to support with some prize money.
The Wounded Warrior Project is a nonprofit organization that promotes awareness about needs of wounded servicemen and women, encourages service members to help each other and creates programs and activities that address those needs.
“The bottom line is that Wounded Warriors is veterans helping veterans,” Hastings said.
A retired U.S. Army officer, Hastings said the race is a chance for the team to throttle past injuries and ride toward success. He and Potter see the 2,000 miles of trail as a proving ground where they can forget about the past and focus on the snow-covered finish line.
“It’s something that if Charlie can do, it proves a vet can come back after such a debilitating injury and progress,” he said.
Hastings and Potter said that the stolen snowmachine has presented some unwanted challenges, but the community has come out in full force to help the team. As for the thieves that got away with the race machine, Hastings believes they’re going to have a long, bumpy ride down the trail of life.
“It makes me feel sorry for the people that stole it, because it’s not going to give them any points at the end of the Big Race,” Hastings said.
Contact Chris Gillow at email@example.com or 352-2284.