Good morning. It’s Tuesday. Today we’ll introduce you to a hero. You may see her riding the streets of New York later this week.
Credit…Kenny Holston for The New York Times
Danielle Green survived her mother’s addiction to crack on the South Side of Chicago in the 1980s. She survived five years playing basketball for the University of Notre Dame, including a year on the bench to heal a torn Achilles’ tendon. As an Army military police officer stationed in Iraq in 2004, she survived a grenade attack that led to the amputation of much of her left arm; back home, she survived the looks of neighbors, who stared openly at her new prosthetic arm, with its pointy metal hook.
This week, Green will ride a bicycle in New York City for the first time. Strangely, she’s a little nervous. She’s used to humidity and heat, living in St. Petersburg, Fla. But she’s not used to hills.
“I don’t know if New York is flat,” said Green, 46. “I don’t know what the humidity will be. It might start raining. And I hope it’s flat.”
Green flies into La Guardia Airport tomorrow. She’ll receive a bike with special handlebars to accommodate her latest prosthetic arm, which grips the bars like an open wrench. On Thursday she’ll participate in the Soldier Ride, an event organized by the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit that helps veterans recovering from physical and emotional traumas.
The ride will start in the heart of the city, on Sixth Avenue, in front of the News Corp. Building, Brooklyn. The cyclists will take the gentle hill of the Brooklyn Bridge, part of a route to Coney Island. They will be surrounded by paramedics and police officers. In some sections, well-wishers will gather, encouraging the cyclists on. There will be street closures, with all the profanity and truck horns such closures always entail.
The middle of the scrum will be mostly quiet. Forty veterans will ride together. If one stops, they all will stop. As the most experienced rider in the group, Green will watch her new friends for signs of physical and emotional distress.
“We start together, we ride together, we finish together,” Green said. “We’re going to ride as a team.”
In a life punctuated by crisis and trauma, Green spent years looking for teams to join. She grew up in the Englewood section of South Chicago, where her mother worked as a bank teller. Then, during the crack epidemic that ravaged the city in the early 1980s, her mother became addicted to the drug.
She lost the bank job, and then their apartment.
“Life got really, really tough,” Green said.
When she was 7, she saw her first Notre Dame football game on television. She loved the gold helmets and NBC’s panning shots of the university basilica’s golden dome. In a family that was falling apart, watching football on Saturday afternoons became Green’s favorite routine, she said. Every broadcast was punctuated by ads for the U.S. Army and Marines.
Green decided: She would join the military. But first, she would attend Notre Dame on a basketball scholarship. She didn’t know that she — a Black girl from a non-Catholic family in a poor neighborhood — might feel out of place at a university that was traditionally composed of white, prosperous young men and didn’t admit women until 1971, seven years before Green was born.
“I started telling people when I was 9 years old that I was going to go to Notre Dame,” she said. “They would just laugh at me.”
Green became a standout left-hander on her high school basketball team, then a scholarship player for Notre Dame.
When she graduated, she became a teacher and basketball coach in a public school in Chicago. Once again, she was lost.
“I went through an identity crisis at about 25,” Green said.
She considered joining the Air Force or an Army intelligence unit, both as an officer. She chose an even harder route: becoming an enlisted member of the military police. Months after 9/11, she joined the army.
“I wasn’t naïve about the fact that we were going to war,” she said.
Then came May 25, 2004. Green’s unit was assigned to a police station in central Baghdad, training officers. On that day, none of the officers showed up. It was Green’s turn to guard the roof, watching the neighborhood for trouble.
The first two rocket-propelled grenades landed in the building two stories below her.
The third landed on the roof.
The blast made Green’s body numb, followed by pain like she had never experienced. She woke up in a hospital bed, disoriented. She couldn’t understand: Why was her left arm now shorter than her right? The commander of her battalion arrived and awarded her a Purple Heart.
After months of recuperation, she returned to Chicago with no community, no purpose.
“I had this hook. People stared,” Green said. “I was about to go into hiding to where people wouldn’t see me. ”
A friend invited Green to a Soldier Ride. It was hard. Her hook slipped off the handlebar, and she didn’t have the abdominal strength to keep herself upright. She fell several times.
The other veterans didn’t stare. They helped. This gave Green an idea.
“Every time I fell down, there was somebody there to pick me up,” she said. “I found my purpose sometime during that first ride, that I am still relevant. I still have something to give back to society.”
Green received two master’s degrees and became a therapist for the Department of Veterans Affairs. She participated in more rides with the Wounded Warrior Project, which also arranged for her to water ski on Lake Michigan and to fish in Alaska. She met President George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, then the junior senator from Illinois. Last year, at a Wounded Warrior Project ride in Washington, D.C., Green got a hug from President Biden.
Asked whether it was a memorable moment, she took a deep breath.
“You know, I’m 46 now,” she said. “I’m not too star-struck anymore. But it was a cool experience.”
This week she’ll fly from Florida to La Guardia and ride a bike 19 miles from Midtown to the ocean.
Green may not enjoy our hills, or our humidity. But New York City does not scare her.
“I’m not worried about the traffic. I’m just worried about not getting hurt, and finishing the ride,” she said. “I always want to finish what I start.”
Expect a sunny day, with temperatures in the high 80s. The evening will be mostly clear, with temps dropping to the low 70s.
In effect until Aug. 15 (Feast of the Assumption).
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All dressed up
I had recently moved to Manhattan from Mali for law school, from a place where everyone greeted one another to a city where I was searching in vain for connection.
One afternoon, I was on an uptown train in a seat by the door. Across from me sat an elegantly dressed woman and her young daughter.
The girl was wearing a black velvet party dress that was trimmed with white lace, and every blond curl was lying perfectly. Together, the two of them made me feel grubby in my jeans and sweater.
As the mother stared grimly at her phone, the girl wriggled in her seat, her feet dangling. She looked at me. I wrinkled my nose and stuck out the tip of my tongue. She looked away quickly, at her shiny shoes, her mother’s face.
A few moments later, I was urgently seeking her mother’s attention.
“Ma’am? Ma’am! Excuse me!” I said. “Your daughter is licking the subway pole.”
— Julia Barke
Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.
Glad we could get together here. James Barron returns tomorrow. — C.M.
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.
Melissa Guerrero, Johnna Margalotti and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].