The Living Memory
On a Mission of Peace
Mike Savicki, A90
look into the eyes of the people along Vietnam's Highway One is
to see the country as it exists today. The eyes of the old men and
women are the eyes of the past. They have seen war, oppression,
economic hardship and conflict. And they show the blemishes and
scars of a difficult life in a developing country. The eyes of Vietnam's
children are the eyes of the future. They see opportunities for
growth, images of a brighter future and a belief in the possible.
For 16 days in January 1998, these eyes were focused on a singular
team of American and Vietnamese athletes who rode 1,200 miles in
the Vietnam Challenge, the first sporting event officially sanctioned
by both the United States and Vietnamese governments in over 30
Our team comprised American and Vietnamese athletes, able-bodied
and disabled, men and women, Vietnam veterans and nonveterans. We
were joined as well by notable athletes such as Tour De France Champion
Greg LeMond, world-record endurance swimmer Diana Nyad, and political
leaders such as United States Senator John Kerry and Pete Peterson,
U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam. Together we rode from Hanoi to Ho Chi
Minh City (formerly Saigon) on a mission of peace and reconciliation.
Blind athletes rode on the back of tandem bicycles, paralyzed athletes
rode handcycles, amputees pedaled with the assistance of prosthetic
limbs. Able-bodied cyclists made up the remainder of the team.
As we rode south from Hanoi, we passed through the battlefields
of the Vietnam War and the remains of abandoned air strips, bunkers
and war zones. We were welcomed by Vietnamese men who once fought
against Americans. We shared meals with families whose sons and
daughters perished during the rage of war. And we visited classrooms
overflowing with young children who wanted to learn more about democracy,
American culture, fashion and lifestyles. Finishing at the steps
of Reunification Hall before an audience of thousands, our team
did something that 30 years ago would have been impossible.
In a world divided by cultural inequality, racial prejudice, religious
persecution, ethnic strife and political injustice, it is amazing
to see how something as simple as a bicycle ride can bring us together.
Sports are a universal language spoken and understood by all people.
And more sporting events like the Vietnam Challenge may be what
our world needs to build one global community. These events have
the power to heal and to promote understanding.
For many of the veterans on the Vietnam Challenge, the ride provided
an opportunity to see Vietnam as a country and not a war. It gave
them a chance to see that, just as their lives had changed since
the war, so too had Vietnam and the Vietnamese people. I saw how
their nervousness and anxiety gave way to feelings of excitement,
accomplishment and teamwork; I saw friendships form between American
and Vietnamese teammates who had similar disabilities or who pedaled
their bicycles at similar speeds. In effect, the Vietnam Challenge
was more than a test of physical determination and stamina; it was
a case study about the need for understanding and the ability to
The Vietnam Challenge did not end when our team left Ho Chi Minh
City. It lives on through school visits by team- mates, an interactive
educational web site (www.askasia.org), and an Emmy Awardwinning
documentary, Vietnam Long Time Coming, from the creators of Hoop
Dreams. Made in association with Sports Illustrated Television and
World T.E.A.M. Sports, the film is a compelling account of our journey
as seen through the eyes of several of the team members. Winner
of the 1998 Emmy for Outstanding Program Achievement, among other
national and international honors, the film is a social inquiry
into how we can build bridges in even the most difficult circumstances.
It continues to be an educational tool in colleges and universities
around the world and is the centerpiece of an outreach program in
secondary and post-secondary schools across the country.
The Vietnam Challenge taught me about my social responsibilities
as a citizen: tolerance, open-mindedness, disability awareness,
compassion and cultural sensitivity. Most important, it taught me
about valuing and advancing diversity, embracing those whose views
might appear different from mine. I realized that even the most
ardent adversaries can, and should, understand that in the end,
we all ride the same road.
Mike Savicki, a multisport disabled athlete, is the only athlete
to have competed in the Boston Marathon on foot and in a wheelchair.
He earned his MBA in 1994 from the Duke University Fuqua School
of Business and is an associate director of World T.E.A.M. (The
Exceptional Athlete Matters) Sports (www.worldteamsports.org).