Monday, March 28, 2011
Soldier Ride in San Diego helps wounded warriors bond and approach life with renewed purpose.
Soldier Ride is a cycling event for wounded warriors that’s held in 12 cities across the U.S. It came to San Diego on Saturday, when 25 wounded veterans and more than 200 supporters took part in a 50-mile ride that began in Oceanside near Camp Pendleton.
The bike ride is an event organized by Wounded Warrior Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping injured veterans rebuild their lives.
It enables injured service men and women from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force to bond with each other as they battle the physical and psychological damages of war. They push the limits of what they can do and raise money for rehabilitation programs.
Dan Nevins was with the Army and later the National Guard. He held the rank of staff sergeant when he received a medical discharge.
When Nevins lost both his legs to an improvised bomb in Iraq seven years ago, he thought his life was over. Then someone from Wounded Warrior Project paid him a visit a week after he had been flown to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
The first thing they did was hand him a backpack filled with essentials, such as comfortable clothes, a toiletry kit, a calling card and a CD player. Until then he had been in a hospital gown, contemplating a grim reality.
“It was the most significant gift I ever received or will receive. That day changed my life. It was an introduction to an organization that took every excuse in the world away from me why I couldn’t be the same person I was before. And I’ll be forever grateful for that,” Nevins said, choking back tears.
He is now a part of the cause that gave him hope, an executive vice-president with the non-profit group. Despite having no legs he helps organize and takes part in Soldier Ride.
Nevins gave a rousing speech before the ride; riders and supporters cheered and clapped.
The event gives veterans the motivation to overcome their physical and mental challenges, and the opportunity to relive the bonding and sense of achievement they had when they served.
“Soldier Ride has given me so much. Most of all a purpose, it’s given me determination and hope,” Nevins said.
Nevins says it's all about pushing to physical limits they didn’t think they could reach. “This is the place where they can find the things they thought they left in the battlefield," Nevins said., "It makes me feel happy and fulfilled beyond words.”
The veterans who take part deal with different challenge. Some of them are amputees, others have suffered burns or nerve damage; still others are dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
Preparing for Soldier Ride and being able to meet others who have overcome similar or worse circumstances serves as an inspiration and spurs them on.
Steven Peace was a Navy lieutenant commander who served for more than 15 years. Then he suffered a stroke that impaired him. He now lives in Normal Heights with his girlfriend, and rides his bike 6 days a week all over the county.
This was his first Soldier Ride. He said being able to ride his bike has given him the determination to step outside his home and feel a sense of accomplishment.
“It’s given me hope, helped me get out. It’s hard to describe how I feel about this event. The spirit and energy you feel here is incredible,” Peace said.
Last Saturday’s event helped raise $31,000, which will be used by the organization to fund rehabilitation programs.