Meet our featured athletes
Face of America includes exceptional athletes from all backgrounds. Here are profiles of a few remarkable athletes who will be participating or who have ridden to Gettysburg in past years.
Sgt. Carlos Rodriguez was a career United States Marine when he was injured in a SCUD attack in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm. His injuries included back and knee damage, Muscle Skeleton Disorder, asthma, nerve damage, PTS and hepatitis of the liver due to chemical exposure.
In 2011 Carlos was introduced to adaptive sports by a fellow disabled Marine Veteran who encouraged him to take up cycling. This helped him rehabilitate quickly from a double knee replacement and in 2019, he logged over 18,000 Strava miles on his recumbent! It has also helped lose over 90 pounds he had gained as a result of medications.
Among his most memorable miles each year are those with Face of America Gettysburg. “Face of America is my favorite event each year. World Team Sports has given me the opportunity to engage muscle memory that I once thought I had lost and enjoy a much better quality of life.”
Mandy Kloepfer joined the Illinois Army National Guard after graduating high school, serving with the MP Unit. In 2007, a year after completing her training, she was in a serious car accident involving a school bus. She suffered a traumatic brain injury, had her spleen removed, and her family was told to expect her to spend her life in a nursing home. As a result of her accident, she has dysarthria, a speech impairment, requiring her to rely on written forms of communication. With the support of her family, Mandy started rehabilitation, determined to live an independent life. As part of her rehabilitation, she discovered a passion for cycling. She pursued this through various training camps and competed in the 2010 Mid West Valor Games. After transitioning to an upright trike, Mandy has competed both nationally and internationally and has set her goal to represent Team USA at the 2021 Tokyo Paralympic Games. During this time, she also earned her Bachelor of Science in Accounting and Master’s Degree in Forensic Accounting.
Mandy learned about World TEAM and our Face of America program through another veteran and signed up for the 2020 event. When FOA 2020 transitioned to a virtual program due to COVID-19, Mandy stayed committed to the program, and has been an active participant in our virtual training series. She has been able to connect with many of her fellow FOA riders through the series and can’t wait to meet them personally at the 2021 event!
Holbrook, New York adaptive Army veteran Christopher Levi served two overseas tours in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2006 and 2007. But an ambush while heading to Baghdad’s Green Zone in 2008 forever changed his life. In an instant, he lost both legs above the knee and sustained damage to his hand. Trying hand cycling to improve his fitness upon his return to New York, a chance encounter encouraged him to ride Face of America in 2013. He’s since been a regular participant with a new confidence that not only gave him a better outlook on life, but also led him into a challenging business profession.
Massachusetts athlete Gina Utegg is no stranger to World T.E.A.M. As a volunteer to the non-profit organization following an automobile accident, she saw first-hand how sporting activities help improve lives of individuals who live with disabilities. It took a diagnosis of breast cancer in 2009, followed by surgery, chemo and radiation treatments, to convince her that participating as an athlete could also help her. The following year, she rode her first Face of America, finishing near the end of the pack. She’s now an annual participant, improving her fitness, allowing her to join Colorado’s Adventure Team Challenge with other adaptive athletes from across the nation. Watch Gina Utegg talk about competing in Colorado’s difficult Challenge.
Col Gregory Gadson
Col. Gregory Gadson lettered four years as co-captain for his Army Black Knights football team at West Point. In 2007, the former defensive tackle was serving as Commander of the 2-32 Field Artillery Battalion in Baghdad, Iraq. Returning to base following a memorial service, a roadside bomb destroyed his vehicle, taking both legs and injuring his right arm. Evacuated to Walter Reed in Washington, Col. Gadson took up hand cycling to maintain his physical fitness. His first Face of America was only two years later, and since then, the Virginia athlete has inspired other veterans and the able-bodied through regular participation. Of course, his acting career, starting when he battled aliens in the 2012 Universal Pictures’ science fiction movie, “Battleship” also provides inspiration to many. Watch a Face of America Minute with Col. Gregory Gadson.
Are you riding Face of America to Gettysburg and have a remarkable personal story about your background you would like to share? Send us your story by email message and attach a high definition digital image. Selected stories will be added to our Featured Athlete page and may be expanded for a story on our World T.E.A.M. site. Thanks!