Former local man, a triple-amputee, rides to help others

BRAD MOSHER/Tillamook Headlight Herald Wade Mitcheltree, above, a former Army infantryman from Williamsport who was wounded in Afghanistan, climbs the hill on his recumbent bicycle while participating in a 28-mile leg of the Reach the Beach fundraiser in Oregon, where Mitcheltree now lives. His father Randy Mitcheltree traveled from Williamsport to ride alongside his son in the event that raised $750,000 for the American Lung Association.

PACIFIC CITY, Ore. — A year ago, former Williamsport resident Wade Mitcheltree watched coverage of the massive American Lung Association Reach the Beach fundraiser here on television as he was recuperating from surgery.

Watching the coverage, Mitcheltree, who went to high school in Loyalsock Township, made a decision that recently made him one of thousands of people participating in the event that raised $750,000 for the American Lung Association.

It also made Pacific City the biggest city in Tillamook County, Oregon, for one day. Pacific City has a population of about 1,000 people. But when the cyclists roll in, along with friends and family members, some estimates put the population of the town at about 5,000 for the day.

“I saw it last year,” he said. “I decided, ‘I want to do that,’ but I just had my leg amputated in March.”

Although it was too soon for him to fully recover and participate in the 2016 bicycle ride, the former Army infantryman who had been wounded in Afghanistan focused instead on being a part of the ride this year.

Bicycle riding became his way to both physically rehabilitate his body after the latest surgery and prepare for the Reach the Beach.

Mitcheltree didn’t ride alone. His father, Randy, traveled from Williamsport to join him on the 28-mile leg from Grande Ronde to

Pacific City. While Wade Mitcheltree was practicing in Oregon to prepare for the ride, his father was doing the same thing in Pennsylvania.

“I flew in to do this,” Randy Mitcheltree added,

Both men noted the impact of the hills along the route.

“Some of those hills were brutal,” Wade Mitcheltree said, resting in his recumbent bike in Pacific City. Nearly finished, he admitted that next year he might not be interested in stepping up to a longer ride – at least not quite yet. “I don’t know … I don’t know,” he said, he voice trailing off.

But he did admit he already has been thinking about doing it again.

The 38-year-old veteran, who now lives in Tigard, Oregon, had paused to wait for another friend in front the Nestucca Fire and Rescue station in Pacific City. The friend had started earlier in Portland, doing the 100-mile route.

“I just sent him a text,” Wade Mitcheltree said, wanting to do the final mile of the ride together.

He admitted that he really liked his recumbent bicycle that he was using for the ride.

“I love it. It is a little more work going up the hills, but I can really zip down the hills now.”

His latest operation was needed because the skin graft on his left leg never fully healed, Wade Mitcheltree said.

“I just had them take that leg off,” he said.

It was just the latest surgery he had to go through since he stepped on a bomb in Afghanistan in 2012. It cost him his right arm, his right leg and severely damaged his left leg.

“I lost all my nerves and most of the tissue below the knee. It was the complications with the skin grafts — all the pain and swelling and stuff — it just wasn’t working. I kept it (the left leg) for three and a half years and said, ‘I’m done.’ It wouldn’t heal, so I was constantly worried about it. So, I just said, ‘Let’s get rid of it.’

“I had to wear a brace anyways, that was like wearing a prosthetic,” he said. “My quality of life went up and was better after the operation.”

He was determined to regain control.

“I went through the rehab mostly on my own, because I had done it before,” he said. “The doctors wanted me to do a two-week rehab, but I was done by the time I got there when they could get me in. By the time I got there, the therapists were saying, ‘What are we supposed to do with you?'” he recalled with a chuckle. “I was already walking by the time I went in there.”

After wearing a GoPro camera for the ride, Wade Mitcheltree said he had plenty of shots to check out with his father as they relax after the ride.

“I had it taking shots every 10 seconds or so. I have about 500. I will go through them and post some to the internet,” he said.

“But I don’t think the internet would like it if I posted all of them,” he added, with a laugh.

— Mosher is a reporter at the Tillamook Headlight Herald in Tillamook, Oregon.