United States Department of Veterans Affairs
 Health Care
Rolling Past Pain and Depression to the Finish Line
Man on a handcycle poses next to man wearing a Hawaiian shirt.
Lonnie Hicks (left) was greeted by VA Prosthetics Manager, Aaron Williams, at the finish of the Great Aloha Run.

The clock was ticking away but the finish line was in sight. As the roar of the crowd increased, Lonnie Hicks picked up his speed and finished the race in 51:55 — well within his goal of one hour, earning him first place in his division!

Army Veteran Lonnie Hicks was competing in the Great Aloha Run, an annual 8.1-mile charity run set in Honolulu, Hawaii. But rather than running, the disabled Veteran entered the race with a handcycle he acquired from the prosthetics department at the VA Health Care System in Honolulu.

A handcycle is a human-powered vehicle that looks much like a tricycle but functions with movement of the arms rather than the legs. The mechanism can be set up in various ways to maximize comfort and functionality for those with high-level injuries.

Facing the Pain

Before Hicks received a handcycle, he went through a roller coaster ride of health obstacles that hindered the use of his limbs in one way or another. He suffered from severe knee pain caused by chondromalacia patella and years of military workouts. He was also diagnosed with trigeminal neuropathy, a condition of chronic pain on his left side. His pain resulted in using a wheelchair, but using a standard wheelchair caused additional problems with Lonnie’s shoulders.

Through rehabilitation and knee surgeries, VA doctors helped Hicks get out of the wheelchair and into a walker, but he still could not enjoy the mobility he missed dearly.

Man on a handcycle speeds through the finish line at a race.
Lonnie Hicks paces himself as he approaches completing 8.1 miles on his handcycle.

“I dropped into a low point in my life. I was very depressed and I wouldn’t leave the house.” Hicks had just moved to Hawaii, but his intense pain kept him from enjoying the weather and outdoor beauty of the new home he shared with his wife.

Depression consumed Hicks for a while, but after a few consultations with chronic pain specialists at Tripler Army Medical Center, he was convinced to change his state of mind. He joined the MOVE! program at the Honolulu VA and learned many tips about improving his diet and increasing exercise. He began exercising on weight machines, but he was unable to get a good heart-pounding, healthy cardio workout.

He then acquired a handcycle from VA prosthetics and relished in its ability to deliver a great cardio workout without triggering any pain in his body. Lonnie began a regular workout routine and happily rode for miles at a time.

“When I ride, I want to go and go and go.”

Support at the Finish Line

His new attitude spurred him into action to make a new challenge. He entered the Great Aloha Run as the only handcyclist and set his personal race goal, one hour. He reached that goal as he found himself greeted at the finish line by supportive Honolulu VA prosthetics staff.

Aaron Williams, the Chief of Prosthetics at the Honolulu VA Medical Center, was among the staff attending the race. “Lonnie has a stand-out personality and he is very grateful to have the handcycle,” said Williams. “It’s done a lot to improve his life.”

Lonnie completely agrees. He says he feels none of his chronic pain when he’s riding. “I can’t wait to go out on my cycle. I get out there for two or three hours a day. Plus when I’m not on the cycle, I still keep myself active now.”

Since his involvement in MOVE! plus his regular routine with the handcycle, Lonnie has shed a whopping 40 pounds. He is eating right, lifting weights, and cycling to his heart’s content.

“I could not have done the weight loss without the handcycle, and I could not have gotten the handcycle without the VA. The VA gave me my freedom back.”

By Megan Tyson, VA Staff Writer

Related Links:
MOVE: Weight Management Program
VA’s Prosthetic and Sensory Aids Service