They started on Sunday, March 23. Two hundred wounded warriors and their supporters gathered in Houston to ride 450 miles over the course of six days. For many, it was a journey on the path to healing.
The riders were part of the UnitedHealthcare Ride 2 Recovery Texas Challenge that ended in Arlington on March 28 at AT&T Stadium, to a crowd of NFL players ready to cheer them to the finish.
The majority of the riders were part of Project HERO, a program that uses cycling to help injured veterans on the road to mental and physical rehabilitation. President and founder of Ride 2 Recovery, John Wordin, told the Wall Street Journal there are 43 such programs, which feed into Ride 2 Recovery, at military bases and VAs across the U.S..
This year was the first time the ride — which is one of six such challenges across the U.S. and in Normandy, France — started in Houston. Ride 2 Recovery documented each day in a series of daily newsletters, summaries of which follow:
On Day 1, cyclists rode through towns that fully supported them, lining the streets and cheering them on. The ride ended at College Station, Aggieland, an 85-mile trek.
On Day 2, Century Day, the riders completed the longest distance of the challenge — 100 miles — on the road from College Station to Georgetown. It was also Project HERO Day, which honored those participating in the program.
The organization highlighted in its newsletter one of its HEROs, Kimo, a retired Navy SEAL who suffered a stroke two years ago, paralyzed him on the left side of his body.
Kimo rides a hand cycle and completed his first century that day. He had only been riding the hand cycle, specially-adapted for his right arm only, for three months prior to the Challenge.
Day 3, the shortest ride of the challenge, brought the riders from Georgetown through Ft. Hood, where thousands of troops lined the way to welcome the wounded warriors.
It was also an accomplishment for new cyclist Mike Smith, who completed three tours of Iraq. During a veteran’s motorcycle ride in 2011, Smith was hit and knocked to the ground. He was hit by a passing truck and lost his right arm. He went to Brooke Army Medical Center/Center for the Intrepid in San Antonio for recovery and rehab and soon connected with Ride 2 Recovery. Now, Smith hopes to make the US Paralympic team.
As the cyclists rode out of Ft. Hood on their way to Waco on Day 4, more than 30,000 troops sent them off, accompanied by music from Army bands. They rode into Waco along the Avenue of Flags, which leads to the city’s VA Hospital.
On Day 5, wet conditions made for a somewhat treacherous and gloomy ride. But the cyclists stopped at several schools on the way from Waco to Cleburne and found both lighter spirits and sunshine along the way.
The final day, Day 6, the riders were escorted by helicopter to the town of Keene where they enjoyed breakfast with local schools and scouts. Throughout the day, NFL players joined them along the way to the stadium, where more players , and lunch, awaited.
On Saturday, March 29 — though the Challenge was officially over — some participated in a ride to honor Sergeant Clay Hunt, a Houston native who served as a U.S. Marine Corp sniper in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hunt never fully recovered from the toll war took on him and he took his life in March 2011.
To imagine the experience of working through what can be extremely trying physical challenges to ride more than 450 miles through towns small and large, across the Texas landscape, cheered on by children and troops … it can give you goosebumps.
At BADER, we are encouraged by all wounded warriors meeting their personal challenges. We strive to push research forward to do all we can to help those with orthopaedic needs.
To see more photos from the event, check out Ride 2 Recovery’s Facebook page. The next challenge will begin on April 26 and riders will trek from Cincinatti, OH to Nashville, TN.