Push­ing for­ward to honor first re­spon­ders

Record Observer - - News - By CON­NIE CON­NOLLY cconnolly@ches­pub.com

PRICE — Maybe you saw him Fri­day, June 16, on the shoul­der of Blue Star Memo­rial High­way. Or Tues­day, June 20, as he passed through Gra­sonville.

Wav­ing an Amer­i­can flag from his wheel­chair out­fit­ted with Amer­i­can flags, he faced traf­fic and pushed him­self back­ward on the side of U.S. Route 301 with his left — and only — leg.

Sur­prised by the un­ex­pected trav­eler, you may have passed Den­nis Schulze be­fore you thought to wave back or honk your horn. But lots of other driv­ers re­turned his greet­ing with a smile and a wave — ful­fill­ing part of his pa­tri­otic mis­sion.

Ever since Schulze lost his leg in a near-fatal ac­ci­dent in 2012, he’s been on a mis­sion to thank those who saved his life, as well as to demon­strate his “love, honor and re­spect” for all mil­i­tary, law en­force­ment per­son­nel and emer­gency re­spon­ders, he said.

Schulze also pushes him­self to honor the mem­ory of his cousin, an Iraq and Afghanistan war vet­eran and ca­nine po­lice of­fi­cer who was killed in ac­tion.

“I just want to say to them, ‘Thank you for putting that shield on ev­ery day for me,’” Schulze said.

At about 10 a.m. on a warm, hu­mid day, Schulze was cover­ing five miles of his third “pa­tri­otic jour­ney hand­shake tour,” this time cover­ing the more than 100-mile route from Wilm­ing­ton, Del., to Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

His mis­sion was to raise money for first re­spon­ders and home­less veterans. His goal for this jour­ney is “for President Trump to shake my hand” when he reaches the na­tion’s cap­i­tal.

“It ain’t about pol­i­tics,” Schulze said. “I don’t talk nothin’ po­lit­i­cal, and it’s no­body’s busi­ness any­way.”

Schulze’s spot­ter is Joan Sohn, who, along with their their 11-year-old pit bull Jack, waited for him in her car with a bot­tle of cold wa­ter on Hay­den Road just off the high­way ded­i­cated to those who have served in the armed forces.

As he tried to po­si­tion him­self for a photo be­side the Blue Star Memo­rial High­way sign, Corey Cur­ley, a trucker from Dover, Del., stopped to ask Schulze if he could help lift his chair over the curb.

An Army vet­eran and re­servist, Cur­ley posed with his girlfriend, Ali­cia Franzen, also an Army vet­eran, as Sohn snapped a photo for Schulze’s Face­book page.

On June 14, Schulze stopped by the Mary­land State Po­lice Centreville Bar­racks to thank the of­fi­cers, pose for pho­tos and seek their ad­vice about cross­ing the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Bridge. He will push him­self to Queen­stown, then Gra­sonville and drive with Sohn across the bridge, then travel ser­vice roads as much as pos­si­ble, ac­cord­ing to MSP Sgt. A. Wil­liams.

Schulze, 55, who lives in Beloit, Wis., was a long-haul trucker for about 25 years. After a se­ri­ous 2012 ac­ci­dent in North Carolina, he found him­self pinned in a wreck that drove a rod into his skull and crushed his right leg.

The only way to re­move him from his rig was to am­pu­tate his leg be­low the knee at the crash site. He said he was fully con­scious dur­ing the emer­gency am­pu­ta­tion.

A se­ries of in­fec­tions forced sur­geons to per­form in­cre­men­tal am­pu­ta­tions, he said, un­til a fi­nal op­er­a­tion re­moved his kneecap and part of his leg above it. That same day, his fa­ther died of Alzheimer’s dis­ease, and a year later, his mother suc­cumbed to can­cer.

“He lived to take care of his mom,” Sohn said. Since then, Schulze, who misses truck­ing, has been on the move.

His first jour­ney in De­cem­ber 2016 was from Beloit to the Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field, 115 miles away. His sec­ond trek, start­ing in Fe­bru­ary, took him from his home to Lam­beau Field, home of the Green Bay Pack­ers, 175 miles away.

Raising money for other causes dear to his heart is some­thing Schulze said he’s done for years. The March of Dimes, Alzheimer’s re­search and the Wounded War­rior Project have ben­e­fit­ted from his fundrais­ing ef­forts.

Schulze said his trips are self-funded, and he di­rects peo­ple to his Face­book and Go Fund Me pages when they try to hand him cash. He did ac­cept, how­ever, a dona­tion from a MidShore res­i­dent who gave Schulze and Sohn six nights at any Hol­i­day Inn Ex­press.

On this Eastern Shore leg of his jour­ney, Schulze is wait­ing to hear from his rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, and the White House, to see if he can achieve his goal of shak­ing the president’s hand.

He plans to put on his pros­thetic leg when he’s about a half-mile away from 1600 Penn­syl­va­nia Ave. “to walk for those who can’t walk.”

In the mean­time, he will pro­pel him­self south­west with his left leg. He wants you to wave and honk your horn if you see him.

“There’s noth­ing bet­ter when I’m out there,” he said. “Part of my job is tell peo­ple there’s good­ness in this world. When I wave the flag, it’s like a lot­tery ticket. If peo­ple are hav­ing a bad day and they see the flag, they smile.”

To learn more about Schulze and his jour­neys, visit his Face­book page at www.face­book.com/den­niss.jour­ney

Fol­low me on Twit­ter @con­nie_s­tar­dem.

PHOTO BY CON­NIE CON­NOLLY

On his “pa­tri­otic jour­ney tour,” Den­nis Schulze chats with Army veterans Ali­cia Franzen and Corey Cur­ley on June 16 at the Blue Star Memo­rial High­way sign on the grounds of the US301 Bay Coun­try Rest Area near Price.

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