Two Men Pedal from Santa Barbara to Charleston to Bring Light to Veteran Suicide
They rode their bicycles nearly every day for more than 40 days, more than 3,300 miles from Santa Barbara, California, to Charleston, South Carolina. Matt Prather and Mike Price are two inspired civilians who accomplished a daunting goal to help our nation’s veterans. The Blue Angels Foundation offered to match Matt and Mike’s fundraising dollar for dollar to benefit Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) programs that tackle mental health issues. Matt and Mike had a clear objective of raising awareness about veteran suicide.
“Unfortunately, America is losing 20 veterans every day to suicide; that’s more than 7,000 per year,” said Matt, a retired engineer and business owner. “To put that into context, the military has lost 6,800 service members in combat since September 11, 2001. We lose more veterans to suicide each year than we have lost in combat in 18 years. This is a national crisis, and we rode our bikes to raise awareness as well as needed funds.”
Along a journey that traversed 11 states, they met people who were moved by both the size of the feat they undertook and their selflessness; in turn, those people had a profound impact on Mike and Matt.
Mike is a retired businessman who remembered meeting a veteran’s mother at a coffee shop on the bike route. “I explained what I was doing, and she teared up,” Mike said. “She said, ‘My son has done four deployments and he’s in treatment right now and he’s not getting great results.’ And to be able to put him in touch with Wounded Warrior Project and the Blue Angels Foundation has so much meaning. It set the tone for the rest of the trip.”
Matt and Mike started their cross-country journey on Sept. 21 in California and concluded Nov. 7 in Charleston. The two friends want to connect 100 injured veterans with lifesaving WWP programs in 2020.
The Blue Angels Foundation supports WWP and its Warrior Care Network®. Veterans coping with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) can receive lifesaving clinical mental health care through Warrior Care Network. Warriors never pay a penny for WWP programs because they paid their dues on the battlefield.
In addition to matching the funds raised by Matt and Mike, which are currently at $47,000, The Blue Angels Foundation has also committed $1,000,000 a year to WWP over the next five years for Warrior Care Network.
Honoring the military is personal for both men. Matt’s father and father-in-law served in the U.S. military. In Mike’s case, his father served in the Navy in WWII. “I can’t think of a better way to honor his commitment than to ride and work for the cause of helping to eliminate suicides of our returning military soldiers,” Mike said.
In addition to meeting people who shared their personal connections to the military, Matt and Mike kept photos of injured veterans in their overnight trailer as a reminder of the needs of U.S. servicemen and women, and as a source of inspiration.
“Most people don’t know about the veteran suicide issue we have,” Matt said. “Many of our veterans are returning home with invisible wounds of war. That’s something that Mike and I didn’t recognize when we started. So, the ride was to try to bring awareness to a big problem in this country.”
For Mike, the journey has opened new questions and a renewed thirst for answers.
“I’ve been asked so many questions that I don’t know the answer to,” Mike said. “Why is the rate of suicide increasing? Why is our society not doing more? It’s made me have more thirst for knowledge, to be able to answer those questions for other individuals and to broadcast the message to people like me, who didn’t know the magnitude of the problem, but who are becoming acutely aware. If we don’t do something, then we’re not helping the people who take care of us.”