One mission, one long ride
Greg Sipple is pretty convincing when he tells you “our dogs save lives.” That’s probably because he’s witnessed such miracles with his own eyes.
Sipple is the chief executive officer for Paws for Purple Hearts, a national organization linking service dogs with wounded military veterans — those suffering from traumatic brain injury, post traumatic stress disorder, mobility challenges and other trauma-related injuries. “Warriors helping warriors” is the organization’s motto.
A 28-year service member who flew fighter jets for the U.S. Navy, Sipple has both seen the horrors of war himself and what they can do to the human psyche. He’s also seen how the unconditional friendship a canine companion offers and the subsequent bonds that develop between humans and dogs can be a salve for such mental scar tissue.
Jerry Schemmel isn’t a veteran but he’s had his own life-altering brush with death. The longtime professional sports broadcaster and current voice of the Colorado Rockies Major League Baseball team survived the 1989 crash landing of United Airlines Flight 232 in Sioux City, Iowa. His book, Chosen to Live, describes the experience.
Schemmel and Sipple were in Gunnison last Thursday, united in a cause of expressing gratitude for their lives by being of service to others.
Schemmel, an avid cyclist and former triathlete, was riding his bicycle across Colorado in an awareness and fundraising effort called Venture for Veterans. While he was actually trying to set an official Ultra Marathon Cycling Association record for crossing the state (486 miles from the Utah to Kansas state lines along Highway 50), his purpose was all about Paws for Purple Hearts.
“They are out there saving lives, every single day,” Schemmel said. “That’s not just a profound statement. It’s a fact. And if I can be a part of supporting this cause and helping veterans, I’m going to do that.”
So well before dawn last Thursday Schemmel hit the road and began pedaling. He was joined by a caravan of supporters, two officials from the Ultra Marathon Cycling Association, and a handful of veterans and their canine companions — including U.S. Army Sergeant Russell Stafford and his dog Major, plus retired Air Force specialist Rich Simonsen and Yoko, a small black lab which got to “throw” out the ceremonial first pitch at a Colorado Rockies game earlier in the week.
By about 2:30 p.m. Schemmel rolled into Gunnison, and after a brief pit stop at Legion Park and a photo-op or two, was back on the highway headed east. After a total of 33 hours and 3 minutes, Schemmel reached the Colorado-Kansas state line — not the time record he was aiming for, but mission accomplished.
“It is not a stretch to say his efforts have catapulted us to the next tier in our growth,” Sipple said of Schemmel’s feat, noting that the organization hopes to open a canine training facility in Colorado next year.
To learn more about Paws for Purple Hearts or to donate to its cause, visit www.Paws4PH.org.
(Chris Dickey can be reached at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)