Veteran who lost both legs in Afghanistan going cross-country on a handcycle

Posted at 10:05 PM, Jun 13, 2015
and last updated 2015-06-14 00:05:19-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Toran Gaal lost both of his legs in Afghanistan in 2011 while serving in the military, and since then he's gotten help from the Semper Fi Fund, which is an organization set up to help injured veterans almost 10 years ago.

Now Gaal wants to give back and inspire others. For most of us, traveling almost 4,000 miles cross-country would be daunting.

Gaal, though, is a veteran who is not like most people.

“It was June 26, 2011: I stepped on a pressure plate IED at about 4 in the morning,” he said. “I don't remember much. Catapulted me into... Blew my left leg off completely, and then catapulted me into a wall and crushed the left side of my head."

And that wasn’t all.

"But at the same time, I lost my right leg through infection from the dirt over there,” Gaal said.

Despite his injuries, Gaal is embarking on the ultimate road trip from California to Virginia, and he's doing it while riding his handcycle.

It's all made possible by the Semper Fi Fund, which has been a help since day one.

“You know, from the date of injury, from June 26 I had a case manager from the Semper Fi Fund and they're communicating with my family about what they need, what airports to go to, what financial burdens need to be taken care of--so they can allow the families to be with their loved one,” he said.

Gaal isn't alone on this trip either.

With him every bit of the way is another veteran following in the support car, Brian Riley--who shares a lot in common with Gaal.

"Well, we were actually injured roughly the same time,” he said. “I was injured the month after he was."

They make a good pair, but you may be wondering how these two men started this adventure.

"So it started out as a joke where I’d be driving the motorcycle, he'd be riding in the sidecar, and we'd just go across America raising money,” Riley said. “But, somehow or another we decided that wouldn't be entertaining enough, so it evolved into handcycling across the country--of which I still thought it was a joke until he was like, ‘Yeah, this is happening."

It may have started as a light-hearted joke, but now the schedule is anything but.

"My support driver, we'll get some rest in the daylight,” Gaal said. “And then in the early morning, we wake up about 3, and we're on the road by about 3:30, I’m on my bike.”

Riley spoke about his role in the journey.

"Primarily I just follow behind him with lights on the back, the hazards on to make sure that none of the vehicles hit him, merge into him or anything like that,” he said. “If there's a lot of vehicles coming or semis or anything along those lines, we'll use the radios that we have to communicate back and forth. I'll give him a heads up."

With thousands of miles to go and as many stories to gain, Gaal and Riley have good reasons to keep going., One of them is to show that you don't have to settle for the hand you're dealt.

"Adaptive life is awesome,” Gaal said. “There's no such thing as a disability. My support driver could agree with me.”

Riley said: "I think one of the big things is for people that have suffered a traumatic event, is that they're still in control of their lives."