Soldier Ride brings home realities of war

 

“Before the Chicago ride, I wasn’t doing too well physically or emotionally. WWP let me meet other wounded vets who had similar injuries and see that they’re doing okay and can bike. I’m on my way to recovery, and I have WWP Soldier Ride to thank for that.”

—Wounded warrior

The route meandered through the countryside south of San Antonio with easily navigable low hills and long stretches of flat road. While a few people parked along the side of the road or sat in lawn chairs in driveways to cheer on riders, spectators of the four-legged variety appeared more often. Horses and cattle either stared with curiosity as we rode past or were spooked by the sight and ran off, tails high. After an hour or two and a timely rest stop, one by one we rolled back under the arch to finish the tour.

Soldier Ride, part of the Wounded Warrior Project, provides adaptive cycling opportunities for wounded soldiers to restore physical and emotional health. The annual ride is open to the public and raises money to provide cycling equipment and support to wounded service members.

Despite the chilly morning and overcast skies, I joined around 400 chatting riders, eager to support the cause, nudging their bikes into position for the ride last November. After the national anthem and a brief ceremony, approximately 100 current military members and veterans, including some with prosthetic devices for legs, mounted bikes and led participants under an inflatable arch that marked the beginning of the ride. Wheels turned on bikes of all types, from the discount store variety to expensive carbon endurance bikes bought in bicycling specialty shops. Two-wheelers were the norm, but some participants rode elliptical machines and recumbent bikes. One woman even rode an adult-sized tricycle.

A mile down the course, the military contingent pulled over and applauded as we passed by. Then they resumed the ride to “cover our backs,” in the vernacular.

Afghanistan and Iraq are so far away that for most people they exist only as lines on a map. It’s easy to forget about the soldiers wounded in combat there—until you participate in the Soldier Ride.

Soldier Ride participants can choose to ride either twenty-five or fifty miles and are asked to raise money for the program. There is an esprit de corps among the riders in participating in a worthy cause, in completing the ride, and in the encouragement received along the way. The applause and cheers from the veterans as we passed by and when we crossed the finish line was especially gratifying—and humbling—because it came from those who give so much: our military.

By Cindy Weigand

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