JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Feb. 15, 2018) – Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) headquarters hosted Soldier Ride® recently, giving warriors from all over the East coast a chance to enjoy three days of adaptive, rehabilitative cycling. For 15 years, this program has traveled the country, connecting groups of local wounded veterans to ride together as units, just like in their military service.
Michael Vouros, a wounded Air Force veteran, had only attended one WWP event before Soldier Ride Jacksonville. Project Odyssey®, an outdoor rehabilitative mental health workshop, changed his world completely.
“I had my doubts at first, with it being my first event with Wounded Warrior Project,” Michael said. “Project Odyssey totally exceeded my expectations. The white-water rafting, rock climbing, and ropes course really made me step outside my comfort zone. I had some great talks – a lot of people are in the same boat. You can really connect with people on those terms.”
During Soldier Ride, the local Jacksonville community rallied around these cycling wounded veterans. Sign-holding volunteers, Jaguars cheerleaders, a marching band, and local WWP staff came out to cheer on the riders and hand out waters and snacks at the ride’s halfway point.
“The community involvement was incredible,” said Alice Alicea, a Navy veteran. “To truly do what we do and have people appreciate it means a lot. It can bring you to tears.”
WWP works hard to ensure the warriors its serves can thrive in the civilian world – but the greatest strength of the organization rests with the warriors themselves. Rediscovering or expanding a sense of camaraderie among fellow warriors is as important to the Soldier Ride experience as the rides themselves.
“I was always afraid to do Wounded Warrior Project events because I didn’t have a physical injury,” Michael said. “I felt embarrassed to attend. But on this ride, I was around other vets, doing cool stuff that I wouldn’t normally do. When I’m isolated, I’m not normally this active. Getting out with others and doing stuff like this – I haven’t been on a bike in a long time – but the camaraderie on this ride was incredible.”
Isolation is one of the most significant struggles wounded warriors deal with after serving their country. It can be difficult knowing how to overcome that challenge and rekindle bonds like those formed in the military. But spending several days riding alongside other veterans from similar backgrounds can build a powerful support network.
“Looking at people from the outside, you can’t know what they’ve been through,” Alice said. “Sharing experiences and reflecting gives us a chance to share our stories and relate to one another. A lot of times people get out of the service and they feel like they’re alone. This ride brings people back together – it helps veterans understand that there is help for them.”
In a WWP survey (https://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/survey) of the injured warriors it serves, 30.3 percent of survey respondents expressed physical activity helps them cope with stress and emotional concerns. Programs like this highlight the importance of managing mental health through physical activity and connecting with other veterans.
“These connections give me more confidence,” Michael said. “When I got out of the military, my friends were still serving or got moved to other bases. I didn’t have much of a social network. Having connections through Wounded Warrior Project gave me the energy I needed to be active and involved again.”
As the ride ended, many warriors exchanged numbers and promised to stay in touch. Others reached out to other service members in their lives who had never heard of WWP or the assistance it could provide.
“I’m still in the Navy,” Alice said. “I have a lot of friends who are still in. My goal is to bring awareness. I’m going to use my energies for a good effort.”
“There are a lot of good resources out there for veterans,” Michael said. “But you have to take the next step. I’ve always hesitated to do something – thinking ‘what might happen’ or being scared of the unknown. But go to Wounded Warrior Project – only good can come from it. There are so many positives to be found there.”
WWP programs also focus on mental and physical health and wellness, financial wellness, independence, government relations, and community relations and partnerships. To learn more about how WWP’s programs and services connect, serve, and empower wounded warriors, visit http://newsroom.woundedwarriorproject.org.
Contact: Mattison Brooks – Public Relations