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Visually Impaired Patriots Experiencing the Road to hold its fifth annual motorcycle ride

By General Posts

VIPER ride founders John Carter (former Marine) and T J Oman (retired Navy Lieutenant Commander) at a previous event

by Erik S. Hanley from

A motorcycle ride supporting veterans with disabilities is rumbling through Oak Creek later this month

When T.J. Oman, a retired Navy lieutenant commander in Wisconsin, reached out to a fellow veteran in Minnesota about the fifth VIPER ride, he learned the man had been diagnosed with cancer and had months to live.

VIPER, or Visually Impaired Patriots Experiencing the Road, will hold its fifth annual motorcycle ride on Aug. 22 in Oak Creek at the Oelschlaeger-Dallmann American Legion Post 434, 9327 S. Shepard Ave. The Minnesota man has traveled to the Milwaukee area for every past VIPER event, but his sister was keeping this year’s announcement from him because of his diagnosis, Oman, one of the VIPER ride founders, said.

“I messed up her plans because when I didn’t see his application this year, I put together an email and sent it to a batch of people curious about their absence,” Oman said.

Now that he knows the ride is happening, despite his diagnosis, that veteran is coming to ride.

Motorcycle owners, known as “pilots,” are partnered with a veteran called a “tailgunner.” The duos stay together throughout the day’s events. Volunteers are known as the “groundcrew” and they work to give directions, welcome participants, set up food and drinks, clean up and more.

“We’re looking forward to it this year because we missed it last year,” said John Carter, a former Marine and co-founder of the VIPER ride. The 2020 ride was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Initially only for blind veterans, the ride recently became “the VIPER ride plus+” expanding to allow veterans with any physical disability that prevents them from operating a motorcycle. There is no cost to participants.

“We don’t charge anybody a dime, this is not a fundraiser,” Carter said.

2021 VIPER ride schedule of events
Early in the morning, breakfast will be offered, Carter said. The 50-mile, 90-minute ride through Milwaukee County will kick off around 11 a.m. with two-wheel motorcycles, trikes and motorcycles with sidecars. This will be the first year incorporating a lot of freeway driving with the entire return trip on the interstate, Oman said. After the ride, a big luncheon with live music will be held.

Overall, Carter estimated the event will last from about 8 a.m. to 3:30 or 4 p.m.

All motorcycles large enough to carry a passenger safely are allowed on the ride. Organizers validate every driver’s license for a motorcycle endorsement, get a copy of everyone’s insurance and perform a full safety inspection on every motorcycle.

“It takes a little bit of time but everything we do is all about the VIPER ride and participants,” Oman said. “The reason we do this is the social side of it, just to hang out and talk with these guys. Some of these guys are true heroes.”

The ride will be escorted by police on motorcycles. Oman said the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office has been a supporter “from the very beginning.” Additionally, officers from the Milwaukee Police Department and the Wisconsin State Patrol have ridden with the group.

“We couldn’t do it without them,” Carter said.

In the past, the ride lasted substantially longer, Oman said. The first two years the ride went out to Kettle Moraine and East Troy, totaling 111 miles round trip. The second year was a little shorter but still hit triple digits on the odometer. After two years, some veterans said it was a little long, Oman said.

Pilots and Tailgunners enjoying the open road

VIPER rides have nationwide participation
Oman, who served on a nuclear submarine during his tenure in the Navy, said this year was the smallest group of participants since they started with 30 tailgunners and between 50-55 motorcycle pilots. In the past, the event had about 50 tailgunners and as many as 120 motorcycles.

Oman attributed the smaller sign-up numbers to the cancellation of the ride in 2020.

“The out of sight, out of mind mentality affected us,” he said. Oman said many were likely still hesitant to come out and do anything in a group as well given the surging number of delta variant cases.

Registration for the ride itself ended in June, but Carter said everyone is welcome to attend the other festivities.

“We match up pilot and tailgunner and put time and effort into making sure we match the tailgunner and the pilot for size,” Carter said. “We try to get it all finalized in June so we know what we’re doing.”

In the event’s inaugural year, participants from across the country, encompassing 15 different states, attended the ride. Carter said one regular rider travels from Mesa, Arizona every year.

“He takes a train here, travels three to four days, rides that morning, then takes a bus back,” he said.

While many friendships were gained from the event, some early-year participants have been lost.

“I never really foresaw the impact and the long-term effect but a lot of these guys, the pilots and the tailgunners, have become lifelong friends,” Oman said. “They communicate year-round, they maintain contact, it has become a family and as a result of that we’ve lost a few.”

One veteran and big supporter of the event died a few months ago, Oman said. The group is “breaking the rules” and letting his wife and daughter ride with them this year in his honor.

“They’re part of the VIPER family,” Oman said.

The VIPER ride website has a memorial page for participants that have passed to “keep their memory alive as part of the ride,” Oman said.

“Unfortunately, the list keeps growing, but I guess part of living is dying,” he said.

Supporting veterans with disabilities

Oman said he’d been trying to convince Carter to do a motorcycle ride for the blind in the past. Carter, who became the president of the Blinded Veterans Association of Wisconsin, was looking to enhance recruitment for the organization. Out to lunch one day, the two came up with the VIPER ride.

“We mutually agreed it would be a good tool for recruitment,” Oman said, adding he’d been involved with motorcycle rides for the blind in the past.

Carter said one goal for the event was to get blind veterans back out into the fresh air “experiencing something they wouldn’t experience again.”

“Once you lose your sight you don’t want to participate in much, many don’t,” he said.

Carter wasn’t thrilled about the motorcycles, but Oman convinced him to get on a trike with a friend every year for the VIPER ride. For Oman, he doesn’t need convincing.

“I don’t need much of a reason to ride a motorcycle,” he laughed. He still invites Carter out for other rides but with no success.

“Motorcycles scare the liver out of me,” Carter said.

Mechanics with good eyesight bring motorcycles for me to fix – Abugu, blind mechanic

By General Posts


Mr Emeka Abugu is a blind mechanic who specialises in fixing motorcycles and generators.

He discloses in his workshop in Aji, Umu-Ida in the Igbo-Eze North Local Government Area of Enugu State, how he lost his sight and learnt to fix motorcycles and other things.


How did you become visually impaired?

I was not born blind; it was when I was five years old that I had measles. And because of that, I could not go to primary school.

Is your visual impairment partial?

No, I don’t see anything. I am completely blind. At some point, it was partial and like I told you, I wasn’t born blind. It started getting worse gradually and it was around 1992 that I went completely blind.

You repair motorcycles, generators and bicycles, how did you learn to do that?

I didn’t learn it; I started by repairing bicycles in 1993. Three years after, I started repairing motorcycles. I started by fixing tyres and gradually, I started repairing engines and doing wheel balancing. I also work on electrical parts. My father bought the tools I use for me.

It is difficult to believe you didn’t learn how to fix motorcycles and bicycles…

I cannot explain it because nobody taught me. My father had a similar gift; he repaired his bicycle. He would go to market, buy the needed spare parts and fix his bicycle. But he never repaired for any other person. He had tools that he used and sometimes, I used the tools to fix his bicycle when I was a kid. I used to also make a kind of local basket popularly called ‘Abor’ or ‘Nkata’. Apart from motorcycles and bicycles, I also fix generators.

Could you identify the kinds of motorcycles you can fix?

I repair different kinds of motorcycles like CI-80, CG, V-10, RX, C-75, CY-10 and the one called ‘Ladies’ motorcycle’ (scooters). I service them as well. I also repair or service small generators and other similar ones. Any generator or motorcycle engine that has difficulty working, I service it. I also replace parts that are not good or useful to get the engines to work.

How were you able to fix your father’s bicycle despite your visual impairment?

I just kept trying till I knew how to do it. I think God made me understand it. I had to help him because I wouldn’t have rest of mind if I did not help him. Once he knew I could fix it better than he could, anytime his bicycle developed a fault, he would ask me to fix it. It is God’s gift.

Since you started repairing motorcycles and others, was there any time you had difficulty on the job because of your visual impairment?

Yes, when I started, I found certain things difficult to fix. But on such occasions, I would become very restless. At times while sleeping, God would show me how to fix it and when I woke up, I would go back to it and do it. From there, I became good at it. I could dismantle the engine of a motorcycle and reassemble them.

How are you able to identify the different parts of the engines you work on?

I’m able to identify the parts by touching them. Once I touch any part that is worn out, I know.

How do you buy spare parts and replace bad ones if you can’t see what you are buying and replacing?

I always take a motorcyclist along to the market when I need to buy spare parts. I buy the things I need; he brings me back to my workshop and I pay him.

What if the trader sells a bad spare part to you?

I will find out because I started doing this work a long time ago. I touch and feel the spare parts before taking them away. And if it is sealed, I always tell the trader that if there is any defect, I will bring it back.

Does the motorcyclist who takes you there assist you in buying the spare parts that are genuine?

No, he doesn’t know genuine ones. He only takes me to where those parts are sold and he waits for me. Once I finish my transactions, he brings me back to my workshop.

In what ways have people tried to cheat you because of your visual impairment?

Some people will give me N100 and say it is N200 or N500 or N1,000. That is how people try to cheat me.

Many people complain that there is no job out there for them, what message do you have for them?

I will advise them to humble themselves, learn a skill and be productive. That way, they can become engaged and fulfil God’s plan for their lives. With the situation of things in Nigeria, one needs to have one skill or the other.

Since you didn’t go to school, how did you learn to speak English?

I learnt from the people around and in church. When people speak English, I listen and try to remember the words later. And if there is any word I don’t understand, I ask educated people around me to tell what it means and how to use it. Then, I start speaking it. In church, they speak English and translate into Igbo; I also learn that way.

Will you be able to teach an apprentice to do the job?

If anybody comes, I will teach them. However, no one has come to learn. Many mechanics around here bring motorcycles they are unable to fix to me. It is either I tell them how to repair it or I fix it for them. Then they pay me and take it back to the owner.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

With God’s continued support, I hope to become famous. I also want to make money to give all my children good education and build a house of my own. Although I have started building a house, I have not been able to complete it. This is also because of family problems. I have roofed the house but it hasn’t been plastered.

Are your parents still alive?

No, both of them are dead. In fact, all my siblings from the same mother are dead. I am the only surviving child of my late mother. We were three but two have died. My mother was ill before she died. My father fell from a palm tree and died. My father was a palm wine tapper. My mother died in 2019 and my father died in 2013.

Are you married?

Yes. I’m married with seven children – three boys and four girls. I didn’t want to have up to seven children but God in his wisdom gave us a set of twins twice. I give God all the glory. I got married in 2000. I am 44 years old now. So, I was about 24 years old when I married.

How did you find your wife?

My mother helped to get a wife.

Where are your children?

Some of them live with me while the older ones live with other people so they can go to school. It is not that if all of them are with me, they cannot go to school but my job is all I have and it does not pay well enough. However, I thank God.

Is any of your children visual impaired?

No, none of them has visual impairment.

What does your wife do?

My wife is not working. I am making arrangement for her to start trading but I don’t have the money required for that yet.

What kind of discrimination did you face as a child?

When I was young, other children tried to tell me that I could not do anything. Sometimes they would hit me because they knew I could not chase them. Even my peers insulted me; some flogged me because they knew I could not fight them. They would snatch things from me and run away. And I would not know the person except they spoke and I heard their voice. But if they didn’t talk, I would not know who it was. But I thank God nobody does such things to me now.

Were you able to play with your peers as kids?

I participated in some games like the one where everyone involved would be required to close their eyes except for one person who would run around them.

What kind of discrimination do you face now?

Now, I cannot join my peers to do anything.

Did you have any challenge with having relationships with people of the opposite sex?

I didn’t have friendship with someone of the opposite sex while growing up. I promised God that I would not have sex or have carnal knowledge of a woman until I got married and that was what I did. So I didn’t have any girlfriend while I was growing up.

Did you have any challenge getting a wife?

It is not every girl or woman you propose to that will accept your proposal of marriage and it wasn’t different during my time. However, I didn’t approach many women for marriage. I tried only two women; for the first person, her family initially rejected me though the girl accepted me. Her family later accepted me. When I wanted to know her house, her father asked me to see him and to come with drinks and other things if I felt I was ready to marry his daughter. When I saw him, I told him I was only there to know their house. Then a date was fixed for me to commence the rites required for marriage there but unfortunately, I didn’t show up that day.


I didn’t go because I felt insulted during my visit to their house. I didn’t like the way I was addressed during my first visit.

What kind of reception did you get from the second family from which you found your wife?

God followed me to the second family. That was where my mother married from because my mother at some point divorced my father and married another man. So, that was where she found the woman I married.

What kind of assistance do you want from the government and society?

I want help; I am getting old and don’t have the kind of energy I used to have when I was young. The Federal Government should extend the Conditional Cash Transfer to people like me and others suffering from deprivation. Are we not citizens of this country? The state government should also help us. – Punch.