The bonds of friendship are sometimes forged in unexpected ways. Take, for example, the friendship of Greg White and Humberto and Kay Reyna.
White is president and CEO of Northern Neck Electric Cooperative in Warsaw, Virginia. Humberto and Kay are North Carolinians who met White by chance at the 2015 Ride 2 Recovery Memorial Challenge.
Ride 2 Recovery is a groundbreaking physical and psychological rehabilitation and recovery program for injured veterans and first responders. Its mission is to save lives by restoring hope and purpose.
Humberto Reyna was a North Carolina State Trooper who, on Nov. 23, 2009, was sitting in his patrol car working an accident scene on Interstate 40. His cruiser was rear-ended and crushed by a hydroplaning car going 75 mph. The impact’s concentrated, violent force caused traumatic brain injury that has forever changed his life.
Reyna’s physical appearance was unchanged after the accident. But his thought processes were disconnected and jumbled, leaving him almost childlike in many ways, and unable to cope with normal life situations. His hearing can become super-sensitive to the point that he flees loud noises and everyday human interactions, such as passing someone on a sidewalk, can cause him to panic. Because his physical appearance is normal, it was months before Reyna was approved for special rehabilitation services to suit the effects of his injuries.
“Before the accident, Humberto was very athletic,” said his wife Kay. “So his rehab doctors felt that it would greatly benefit him to get back into some of the activities he was involved with before the accident.”
His favorite pre-accident activities included golf, swimming, running and bicycling. But, as Kay would learn, “There aren’t many organized activities for people like Humberto.” The problem is that, with his hypersensitivities and thought-processing difficulties, Reyna needs to do these activities with someone, to keep him on track. Otherwise, he might become distracted and go off course or otherwise become lost.
“It wasn’t easy for him to get back out and participate in sports,” said Kay. “Swimming came first, then golf, then running and biking. With the traumatic brain injury, he lost all of his social skills, so doing these things is socially as well as physically therapeutic for him. Because of his condition, he never gets fatigued, never gets hungry or thirsty, and sleeps very little. Keeping up with him is physically exhausting. So the bike rides are wonderful for him. He just needs to be in a group.”
Participation in these physical activities, in a group setting, would be ideal therapy for easing him back into normal life situations. Finding a way to make this happen became Kay’s mission.
“I put a post on Facebook to see if there was anyone willing to participate in a triathlon with Humberto, and through Facebook found a guy in the Army, James Brown, who said he’d help,” Kay noted. “So we went and did the triathlon in Wilmington, North Carolina, together, and it was great. This happened the fourth year after the accident.”
Humberto and Kay were high school sweethearts and have been married 26 years. They have three children, ages 18, 21 and 24. Kay worked as a finance secretary at a North Carolina middle school before Humberto’s accident. “He’s what I do now,” she said with a smile and without a trace of hesitation.
Kay accompanies her husband on all of his sports outings. She doesn’t participate, but she organizes the trips and watches out for his safety.
After that first triathlon in Wilmington, the Reynas met Mike Thomas, who is affiliated with Ride 2 Recovery. Although created to help injured service personnel, Ride 2 Recovery was expanded to include injured policemen, firefighters and other first responders. Reyna rode for three of the five days in the 2014 Memorial Challenge.
“Ride 2 Recovery leaves no one behind,” Kay said. “After all those years looking for a group that would accommodate Humberto and the difficulties he experiences because of his injuries, we’d found a place for him. It was wonderful to see all those veterans helping him. And I told Humberto, we need to walk through the doors that God opens.”
The door was opened wide at the 2015 Memorial Challenge. The ride started in Washington, D.C., on Memorial Day and ended in Virginia Beach five days later. With the help of his Ride 2 Recovery family, Humberto rode all five days.
Greg White, a lifelong athlete and triathlon enthusiast, had entered the 2015 ride as a part of Virginia electric cooperatives’ support for disabled veterans and first responders.
“Right after I became Virginia’s representative on the board of directors of our National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), one of its senior vice presidents, Peter Baxter, learned that I was a bicycling enthusiast and invited me to ride one day with the bikers on the Memorial Challenge,” White recalled.
“Peter had been involved in NRECA’s support of the Ride 2 Recovery group and thought as a board member I would be interested. After that one-day ride in 2014, I decided I wanted to get involved in helping this organization and ride longer the following year, in 2015. That’s when I met Humberto and Kay.”
After the 2015 Memorial Challenge, Greg contacted the Reynas and invited them to come and stay with him and his wife Carolyn at their home in Tappahannock to participate in a triathlon at nearby Naylor’s Beach.
“We took Greg up on his offer, and he and Carolyn were so wonderfully kind and hospitable. It was the beginning of a warm, special friendship,” noted Kay.
“It was through their friendship and really at that very point when they invited us in, as strangers, that I felt God was reassuring me personally that I was going to be okay and that we were going to make it through this,” she continued. “It was truly a life changer for me, because I could really feel God’s love through their actions … the last six years have been the hardest thing I’ve ever been through.”
Greg was particularly moved when, after the Reynas left to return to North Carolina, he found a gift from them, a small Bible wrapped in a hand towel. With the gift was a thank-you note quoting Matthew 25:35, and Kay had underlined the passage, “… I was a stranger and you took me in ….”
White and the Reynas got together again in October 2015. The Reynas joined White and his son Casey for a triathlon in Richmond. The event was scheduled to include a swim in the James River, followed by a bike ride, then a run. But because the James was swollen from heavy rains, the swim portion of the triathlon was replaced by a second, shorter run segment.
Reyna and the Whites competed in the triathlon as a relay team, with Casey and Humberto doing the running segments and Greg and Humberto doing the biking segment. Casey, a fit 36-year-old, laughed as he crossed the finish line in the triathlon’s final running segment, behind Humberto. “Keeping up with him wasn’t easy. It was all I could do to keep him in sight,” he said with a grin.
“Humberto and Kay will be our friends for the rest of our lives,” White said after the October triathlon in Richmond. “Kay made the comment that God had blessed her and Humberto with meeting us. When my son Casey heard this, he said ‘I’m thankful to be part of this experience, and I’d say we are blessed to have met them, as well.’ ”
White also invited Humberto and Kay to Northern Neck Electric Cooperative’s annual all-employee day in November, where they talked about the Ride 2 Recovery program and Reyna’s experiences.
“Life can change in an instant, and you never know what’s going to happen,” said Kay. She thanked the cooperative for its support of the Ride 2 Recovery event. Next, White asked Reyna if he wanted to say anything. Reyna took the microphone and, after a long pause to organize his thoughts, spoke to the assembled group.
“The injured, people like myself, need your help,” he told the cooperative’s employees. “We’re here for a reason. Little things can make a big difference. I know this won’t cure me, but it will give me a little relief. Sports is therapeutic: If I wasn’t doing this, I’d be staying at home. And I hope that, through God’s grace, I can touch someone else, maybe help somebody else.”
He closed by thanking Greg. “He is my friend. He’s a good friend. He’s a good man.”
Bill Sherrod is editor of Cooperative Living and vice president, communications and public relations, at the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives.