From Sea to Shining Sea
BGSU Firelands Alumna, an Iraqi War Vet, Cycles Across the Country for Fellow Veterans
By Marie Dunn-Harris '95
Finish what you started. That's the sentiment former U.S. Army Sgt. Sarah Lee '09 lives by, and what she has set out to do this month.
In May 2017, Lee embarked on a 4,300-mile journey, cycling from coast to coast to raise awareness for her fellow veterans who were victims of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. She started in Virginia and made it 2,400 miles to the front range of the Rocky Mountains. But that's where her trip was cut short when she was run off the road by a large truck. Lee tore her PCL ligament in her knee, and had to postpone the rest of her journey.
Ten months later, Lee is back on the road to finish her trip across the country. On June 2, Lee picked up where she left off, in Pueblo, Colorado, and plans to cycle another 2,000 miles to finish in San Francisco by crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.
Lee grew up in Norwalk, Ohio, and always wanted to be in the military. With the permission of her parents, she enlisted when she was 17 years old. She was deployed to Iraq, where she served in Operation Iraqi Freedom as a combat engineer. As soon as she returned, she felt lost, like something was missing.
"Once you get out of the military, it's really hard to fill that hole that is left," she said. "The camaraderie is second to none and it's hard to find that in the civilian sector."
That's when Lee immersed herself into her studies. She enrolled at nearby BGSU Firelands and embraced the entire college experience. She ended up switching her major several times and had enough classes to graduate with a bachelor's degree in VCT, associate's degree in arts and a minor in business.
"Even with 18 credit hours, I couldn't stay busy enough," she said.
After her first semester, Lee became president of Visual Communications Technology Organization (VCTO). She received an award for creative excellence and was the co-founder of the annual VCTO gallery, which she is very proud of.
“As VCT majors, we spent so many hours creating wonderful works of art that were visually appealing and we didn’t want them to go to waste,” she said. “We were able to showcase that work throughout the community.”
Lee also worked in the writing lab and cherished that one-on-one time with her peers.
"Even though the Firelands campus was smaller and convenient, it was also more personal and I enjoyed the smaller class setting," she said.
It was also at BGSU Firelands where Lee started her own photography business, which she still runs today from her home in Nashville.
"I discovered photography and really clung to that. It made sense to me," she said.
Lee's business kept her going but she was still dealing with the repercussions of serving in the military.
"You can stay busy for awhile at first, but as soon as you slow down, things start to catch up and it really does downward spiral quickly," she said.
Lee decided she wanted to inspire and unite other veterans who felt the same way she did, and make a real impact. That's when she came up with the idea to bike from "sea to shining sea."
"I really needed this for personal, post-war healing and to honor my friends that I lost in my deployment to Iraq," she said. "They gave up everything that they had, and so will I."
Lee chose cycling because she's able to meet many veterans during her stops along the way. It's also better for her health.
"I deal with chronic pain so this was better for my neck and my knees," she said.
Lee is cycling on a pre-set route through the Adventure Cycling Association called the Western Express. It's a slightly less-traveled route with many back roads and nearly 90 miles between towns.
"I wanted to make this as challenging as possible," she said.
Lee is giving herself three months to complete her journey. Once she's done, she doesn't plan on stopping her commitment to helping fellow veterans.
"I'm real adamant about making a real difference for my fellow veterans going forward, being a part of the solution," she said.
She plans on starting a veteran outreach program in Nashville that will offer camping, fishing, hiking and cycling outings.
"Nature offers so much healing, and I know first-hand how much it can help so I want to make that possible for other veterans," Lee said.