Evan Pappas/Staff Photo David Sorrentino, a local veteran, built his own bike to be as ergonomic as possible for the upcoming Tour Divide, a 2,745-mile bike race from Canada to New Mexico.

Disabled and homeless, Valley veteran takes on North America’s toughest bike race

As he copes with a physical disability due to injuries sustained during his time in the U.S. Army, David Sorrentino is planning one of the most physically arduous tasks of his life, the Tour Divide.

Beginning in the Canadian city of Banff, Alberta, traveling through Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and ending in Antelope Wells, New Mexico, the Tour Divide challenges participants to bike along the 2,745-mile Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, the world’s longest off-pavement cycling route.

The route was mapped along the mountainous Continental Divide of the Americas in 1998 by the Adventure Cycling Association and has become known as one of the toughest challenges for cyclists. The Tour Divide is a self-supported race, meaning that each cyclist is responsible for his or her food and water, as well as finding a place to sleep.

Sorrentino, who is dealing not only with his injuries, but also with homelessness after losing his job due to his disabilities, said the Tour Divide is the motivation he needs to help recover as much as he can and to prove that people with disabilities can still do big things.

“The reason why I want to do it is to inspire vets, that just because we are disabled doesn’t mean we need to sit back on the couch, take meds and watch daytime TV,” Sorrentino said. “We can get out and do things, we can recover. Also to show the civilian world that just because a vet has this disability rating, doesn’t mean that we are not able and capable of doing tremendous amounts of work still.”

Sorrentino began his military service in the Navy from 1980 to 1986. In 1999, he joined Eastside Fire and Rescue as a volunteer firefighter and EMT and was on track to be hired full-time.

However, the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001, motivated him to re-enlist.

“At that moment I decided I was going to go back into the military. So on Sept. 12, I re-enlisted in the U.S. Army. The reason why is because the Navy office was closed,” he said. “Because of the unique training I had done in the Navy I was quickly put into a Scout platoon. The 19 Delta Scout platoon, Cavalry Scouts. There went the firefighting career and I figured I would make a military career out of it now.”

He retired in May 2012, after sustaining an injury that required reconstructive surgery on his spine and left him with a condition that makes physical activity difficult.

Sorrentino has radiculopathy, compressed nerves which cause pain, numbness, tingling or weakness, in his right arm and leg.

“I have extreme radiculopathy in both my right arm and right leg, I don’t feel much with it. I have pain and numbness and tingling, pins and needles all the time. My whole thigh is completely numb but it makes my lower leg and foot hurt a lot. Pain where the four vertebrae have been fused in my back, of course, doesn’t feel so good,” he said. “These are limiting factors and I’m having to learn to work around them to be able to do the things I am going to need to be able to do for this race.”

As he recovered, Sorrentino set a goal to buy a bicycle and become active again within the year. That bike allowed him to start moving again, and allowed him to commute to work in Redmond.

He was passed up for a permanent position at his job in Redmond due to his disability. Later that same day, Sorrentino was struck with bad case of food poisoning. While he recovered from the sickness, he checked out a movie from the local library called “Ride the Divide,” a documentary on the Tour Divide annual race.

As soon as he saw that, he knew he needed to try it for himself.

The documentary inspired him to challenge himself and motivated him to prove that he is still physically capable, although he is rated disabled.

“I was just denied a job that I would very much love to have because of my military disability rating, and because our military rates disability differently than the civilian world, a lot of vets get turned down for jobs that they very well could perform,” he said. “I decided at that time, I am going to ride the divide.”

Sorrentino said he is rated 80 percent disabled by the Veteran’s Administration which means he receives a portion of his military wage as monthly disability compensation, but that isn’t enough to live on.

He also said his disability rating was increased to 100 percent which would provide him with a livable wage, but the increase is slowly being processed and so far he hasn’t been able to officially make the change to 100 percent. Sorrentino has essentially been locked into homelessness; he’s unable to find work due to his disability rating, but doesn’t receive enough disability compensation to live on.

He has spent the night for the last few months at the Snoqualmie Valley Winter Shelter, a seasonal shelter operating in local churches, which provides a warm place to sleep for homeless people in the Valley.

“I’ve been staying at that winter shelter, I camped and lived in the woods up until November but it became so cold and so difficult that I decided to utilize the services of the shelter,” he said.

Even while homeless, Sorrentino is still preparing for the Tour Divide. Along with the necessary exercises he needs to do to overcome his disability, he has also built a bike capable of the long journey while also being ergonomic enough to help relieve his neck and back pain.

“I had to consider ergonomics,” he said. “I needed to really think about positions on the bike. The length of the stem, how far out and high the handlebars are.”

Sorrentino said he and Snoqualmie Valley Velo Club co-founder Jeff Scott will be traveling up to Banff, Alberta in June to start the race. Scott will ride the first day of the race, after that Sorrentino will be riding alone.

He isn’t planning to win, just to finish the journey. For Sorrentino, making it in within a month is his goal.

“My idea is not to compete to win, the record time now stands at about 16 days. I’m not going to do it in 16 days. My goal is to compete to complete,” he said. “Currently I’m looking for a 25-day completion, which will put me at the end of the race on July Fourth, how fitting.”

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