PHOENIX — Brothers Deven and Erik Schei sat next to one another after their long bike ride. Deven muttered something to Erik, who responded with a booming laugh that brought smiles to all those around.
For siblings who have endured so much pain, their sprightly demeanor and triumphant message are simply uncanny.
“There’s always trouble when these two get together,” Christine Schei noted of her sons.
For the last five years, the Scheis have participated in Wounded Warrior Project’s Soldier Ride. Together on their bright orange, two-rider bike – donated by WWP and Soldier Ride founding partner U-Haul – Deven pedals while Erik encourages his brother from the attached seat in back.
They quickly became a picture of hope and inspiration for WWP, having served in that capacity again Nov. 20-21 during the 2015 Soldier Ride Phoenix event.
In 2005, Erik was on his second tour in Iraq when his life changed forever. He was shot in the head, the bullet shattering his skull. He shouldn’t have survived. By some miracle, he did. For years he was in an open-eye coma. The Schei family struggled to cope.
Wounded Warrior Project was there for the family despite being a relatively small organization at the time. Erik eventually came home, which lifted his spirits. Christine and Gordon, the boys’ father, rearranged their lives to care for him.
“He started talking with his hands … he started doing things that every single doctor told us that he would never be able to do,” Deven said. “He was a fighter.”
Deven had vowed to finish what Erik started, if anything ever happened to him. It was a promise he kept. In 2008, Deven joined the service as a combat engineer for the U.S. Army.
He was deployed to Afghanistan. Not long after his arrival, he and three other soldiers were ambushed. “The military trained me for so much, but what they didn’t train me to do was to witness three of my best friends almost die in front of me,” Deven said. “That was something I could not handle.”
The incident was devastating for Deven; his injuries from battle were both physical and mental. He lost his sense of purpose. An attempt at suicide followed.
“I failed,” he said. “And I knew there was a reason why I failed.”
Inspired by his brother and self-revelation, Deven reached out to WWP and participated in his first Soldier Ride. He was hesitant about coming out of his comfort zone for the first time since his injury. But the Bothers Schei were greeted with open arms by WWP and U-Haul.
“It showed me that people cared,” Deven said. “They gave my brother and I this bike. That bike is not cheap and they didn’t blink an eye. Instead, they were like, ‘Just give it to them. We want them to continue riding and continue moving forward.’ It was an eye-opener to realize … that I wasn’t alone.”
U-Haul Team Member Ashleigh Wagner met the Schei family in 2011 during their first Soldier Ride Phoenix.
“Witnessing the whole family’s physical, mental and emotional growth over the years as they’ve returned for Soldier Ride has meant so much to me,” Wagner said. “The family’s strength and determination are immeasurable.”
The brothers commit to at least one Soldier Ride event each year. Deven pointed to the brotherly dynamic that goes into their rides.
“It’s a lot of bickering back and forth – with Erik calling me names,” Deven said. “We make fun of each other just like typical brothers. There is a lot of rivalry between us.”
One day the door may open for other Warriors to pull Erik in Soldier Ride events, though it may be a while before Deven can share his duties. “I’m very protective, so it’s hard for me to let go of the bike and Erik,” he said.
As a spokesperson for WWP, Deven shares his family’s journey with other Warriors, sponsors, media members and anyone else willing to listen. He finds joy in knowing that he has been able to make an impact in other Warriors’ lives.
“It’s amazing to see these Warrior grow from quiet guys to this person that is productive in life instead of sitting on a couch feeling sorry for himself,” Deven said. “That’s what Soldier Ride is all about.”
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