ESCONDIDO — Escondido resident and retired Marine Sgt. Toran Gaal just finished four marathons in four weeks.
He placed first in the Achilles division at the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon Sunday and the following day, he began a bicycle ride across America.
Gaal hopes to complete the 65-day trek on a hand-cycle, because he lost both his legs in Afghanistan after an Improvised Explosive Device detonated underneath him.
His goal is to raise $20,000 for the Semper Fi Fund, a nonprofit that provides assistance to wounded service members.
“I just want to raise awareness for adaptive athletes across the world,” Gaal said.
He told the crowd of about 70 people at City Hall Monday how important exercise was to him in coping with his injury.
“I spent much of two years of my injury just wallowing in my own self-pity but I got out and started surfing,” Gaal said.
Another adaptive athlete, Brian Riley, helped Gaal start doing cross fit.
“I ended up losing a good amount of weight while doing it in preparation for this ride,” Gaal said.
He also coaches the police athletic league and kids basketball.
He is getting involved in the Escondido community after living in the area for a few months and hopes to bring a positive message about exercise.
“We can all be active, and I want to bring that to the city of Escondido,” Gaal said.
His fiancée, Lisa Graves, said she isn’t worried about his physical strength in completing the ride, which is over 2,600 miles.
She’s more concerned about traffic on the road.
“It’s not the physicality of it, because he has pretty powerful arms. It’s the navigating through traffic that’s probably the most difficult,” said Graves.
A support vehicle will follow Gaal throughout the journey, which began in Seaport Village Monday morning and will wind throughout the U.S.
He will visit 16 states and his final stop is in Arlington, Virginia.
Fellow-adaptive athlete Riley will be driving the support vehicle and will help with any flat tires or other support needed along the ride.
Local law enforcement throughout the country will escort Gaal some of the way, which will improve his safety.
Graves said she fell in love with Gaal the first time she spoke with him, when she interviewed him for a book she was writing at Freedom Station in Balboa Park.
“The reason why I fell in love with him, is his determination,” Graves said.
Freedom Station provides temporary lodging to disabled military service members and helps them transition out of the military and back into civilian life.
While Gaal’s goal is to raise awareness for wounded servicemen, Graves said the support he received Monday from dozens of Escondido residents helps him flourish.
“These people that come, don’t realize what they give to (the wounded service people) when they come like this. It’s not even about a donation. What it makes them feel like to see this, there’s no check that you can write that’s big enough,” Graves said.
She will be posting to Gaal’s website, torangaal.com, the entire trip with route updates and progress information.
The couple is also in the process of having a home built for them by nonprofit Homes for Our Troops.