JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Dec. 19, 2017) – Thousands of warriors pedaled thousands of miles in 2017 as part of Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) Soldier Ride® events across America. For many, the event was an introduction to how WWP serves warriors, their families, and caregivers through free programs and services. Others were familiar with these resources, and the ride was yet another opportunity to connect with fellow veterans in their local communities. For others, it was the next step in an ongoing journey toward recovery by getting physically active again.
There was something for everyone at each of the 24 cities Soldier Ride visited. Each had its own unique stops, supporters, and landmark events. Just the same, each warrior made his or her own memories from days spent riding bicycles alongside fellow wounded service members. Over the course of the year, several wounded warriors shared what Soldier Ride means to them – whether it was getting on the bike for the first time, making a new friend, or even shaking the hand of the President of the United States at the White House.
Triron James, Army veteran: “I wanted to link up with other veterans and get that sense of unity back. I came out here hoping to challenge myself physically, but also to learn more life skills and build a network with other veterans in my community. We all have that service history in common, but it’s surprising how quickly everyone has come together. Everything comes back together to give us that sense of unity. We’re all motivating each other, supporting each other. I needed that, and I need it in my day-to-day life.”
Jeshua Rango, Navy veteran: “It’s been a very good experience to accomplish this ride together, instead of it being a race. We’re here for each other. We’re communicating with each other – alerting each other to bumps in the road, but also just talking about where we’ve been in our lives. I don’t really talk much about my disability or the things going on in my life. But with this group especially, I was able to connect and talk to them about their experiences, and how they handled certain adversities. Knowing there are others who understand what you’ve been through is powerful.”
Greg Padilla, Marine Corps veteran: “There’s been a lot of bonding among everyone, but when you have that added element of being injured, you find yourself in one of two camps – you’re either isolated, or you’re not isolated. A lot of the warriors here actually identified themselves as isolated. And this was an opportunity for them to speak with other veterans, engage with other veterans, and do something other than hiding within our homes. This ride brings back that sense of unity and camaraderie that we get used to in the military.”
Rose Jones, Army veteran: “In the civilian sector, people have a hard time understanding what it’s like to live with the invisible wounds of war. When I get around my fellow veterans we pretty much all go through the same things, and we get what it’s like to live with invisible wounds. That’s why I love being part of this community. Ever since I joined Wounded Warrior Project, my life has changed for the better. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
Rahkeim Crawford, Marine Corps veteran: “This ride was about forgetting about daily stressors and just enjoying the scenery, and uplifting one another. I push through my pain – it’s there, but I see others riding beside me. There’s always someone going through something worse than you are; if they can push through, I can push through it too. Once you’re all brought together, there’s an automatic connection that is unspoken. The everyday civilian can’t compare to what we’ve been through, but other service members know exactly what it’s like. That’s why I’m grateful that Wounded Warrior Project hosted this event. It’s been a blessing for me, but also for my brothers and sisters around me.”
Audra Edelen, Army veteran: “I had a goal for myself coming into this event: to meet new warriors. I can be a bit shy, so being here with other veterans has been a big deal for me. Everyone has their own situations and problems, but every veteran I’ve met can relate at some level. There are resources out there, and there’s hope. If you’re having a bad day, or feeling hopeless, just having that moment to talk to another warrior can make a huge difference. Wounded Warrior Project helped me make those connections, and it’s made a huge difference in my life.”
Laura Herbst-Agee, Air Force veteran: “All I knew was that I wanted to end with more friends than when I got here. I knew the ride itself was going to push me; the hills have been challenging, but I’ve been able to ride alongside my brothers and sisters, hearing the encouragement as we ride. The best part has been connecting with the other warriors. You get an instant brotherhood or sisterhood with these people you don’t know but have an instant connection with the moment you meet them. That’s because we’ve been through something similar – the same pain, emotional or physical or both. They get me right away and understand the challenges I face.”
Nicole Robinson, Marine Corps veteran: “Adaptive sports helped save my life. After my injury got really bad, I missed running, hiking, and staying active. The hand cycle allowed me to start moving again. Getting on that machine changed my life. Since then, I’ve done adaptive swimming and sled hockey. Wounded Warrior Project has been so supportive of me during this time.”
James Myers, Army veteran: “I’ve made some friends for life during Soldier Ride. It turns out it’s a small world too – one of the guys from my unit at Fort Bragg was there, and he’s been over at Walter Reed. I’m definitely going to stay in contact with him. I was equally surprised by the people who came out to cheer us on. The American people really do appreciate us, and they’re so happy we served. It was really great to see that.”
“2017 was a remarkable year for our Soldier Ride team and the warriors they served,” said WWP CEO Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Mike Linnington. “We were welcomed back to the White House for an amazing tradition that has continued since 2008. We rode the busy streets of New York City, the sandy coastline of San Diego, and dozens of cities in between. The riders, proud and resilient, give hope to those around them, and in turn, communities across America came out to cheer them on and support them. Each of our warriors should be proud of their accomplishments this year. As 2017 comes to a close, we look to the next year and a new group of warriors connecting during next year’s rides. It’s my sincerest hope that each of those warriors will experience what others have before them and feel changed, empowered, and hopeful about the future.”
To find photos and videos from the 2017 Soldier Rides, and learn more about how WWP’s other programs and services connect, serve, and empower wounded warriors, visit http://newsroom.woundedwarriorproject.org.
Contact: Mattison Brooks – Public Relations