More than 30 wounded warriors attended a two-day, 30-mile Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) Soldier Ride® in the River City recently. Soldier Ride is more than just a bicycling event – for many warriors, the ride is the first time they venture outside their homes to connect with their communities. As such, Soldier Ride has often served injured veterans by introducing them to WWP’s long-term health and wellness programs, which include physical training, outdoor events, and nutrition classes.
Soldier Ride began in 2004 when civilian Chris Carney cycled more than 5,000 miles coast-to-coast to support WWP and help raise awareness for injured veterans. The following year, several combat warriors who returned from Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) with visible and invisible injuries joined Carney for another cross-country ride. The trek across the nation proved to be a milestone on the journey to recovery as wounded warriors redefined their personal strengths and limitations. Despite facing many obstacles, the warriors refused to give up. They used the experience as a catalyst to show the public and themselves that with support and motivation, anything was possible.
Today, Soldier Ride continues to inspire warriors to heal their bodies and minds. It has become a gathering that connects American heroes to each other and their communities and provides the American public an opportunity to honor that service and sacrifice.
To date, an estimated 400,000 service members live with invisible wounds of war, including combat stress, depression, and – the signature wounds of OEF and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) – post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). WWP programs offer settings that provide opportunities for injured veterans to form bonds and reduce isolation, which 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 similar to those formed in the military.
“I’ve seen Wounded Warrior Project change lives, and I’ve seen how it has improved my marriage,” said Durrant Spencer, a U.S. Navy wounded warrior from Jacksonville, Florida. “Wounded Warrior Project sticks with its mission to honor and empower Wounded Warriors. I see what it does. I see the changes it makes – it has done it in my life, it’s done it in my friends’ lives, and it can do it in the next warrior’s life.”
During Soldier Ride in Jacksonville, warriors participated in team-building exercises, a night of fellowship where they could relate to others with similar military backgrounds, a tour of WWP headquarters, a day of riding at Naval Station Mayport, and other physical health and wellness training activities. The historic nature of this program event’s location sets it apart from others held nationwide, as it is the first of its kind to be launched from WWP’s national headquarters office.
More than 40 WWP teammates and guests joined the warriors on the final day of the ride through Jacksonville. Two Harley-Davidson® riders led the bike formation as the warriors were cheered on by Sudduth® employees who lined the streets with homemade signs of encouragement. Among the applauding crowd of supporters were more than 14 community vendors that donated invaluable gifts-in-kind, making the event a special one for all. These vendors included DJ Adam Warner, Celebration Church, Southpoint Community Church, The Young Professionals, and South Kitchen and Spirits.
WWP serves warriors through programs that assist them with mental health, physical health and wellness, career and benefits counseling, and connecting with other warriors and their communities. Programs and resources are free of charge to those WWP serves thanks to generous donors. Warriors are empowered to live life on their own terms, mentor fellow veterans and service members, and embody the WWP logo by carrying one another along a path toward recovery.
Programs that aid in managing mental health through physical activity are paramount according to the 2016 WWP Annual Warrior Survey, in which 29.6 percent of survey respondents expressed physical activity helps them cope with stress and emotional concerns.
Frank Poupart-Roldan, a retired U.S. Army combat veteran from Tampa, Florida, credits WWP for helping him cope with his combat stress.
“To those who support Wounded Warrior Project and allow me and my brothers and sisters to participate in programs like Soldier Ride – from the bottom of my heart – thank you very much,” Frank said.