They rode together like a platoon for 16 miles from Tidelands Park to Imperial Beach and back. Some had visible scars, some were missing limbs and some have emotional scars that are still healing. This group of soldiers completed a ride on March 14 some would have never thought possible. The Soldier Ride is a program of Wounded Warrior Project. “A lot of these guys hear ‘you’ll never play soccer, you’ll never paddle board.’ Wounded Warriors Project teaches you how to do it in a different way, they find out what works with your body and you can do it anyway,” explained Margaret McDonough of Spokane, Wash. who was waiting for her husband Tim who was taking part in the ride. Her husband, a U.S. Army veteran, was injured in Iraq in 2005. He has a traumatic brain injury, neck and shoulder injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This was his first ride and he had been waiting for a year to do it.
The WWP organizes rides throughout the country for veterans who get plane tickets, accommodations and meals paid by the organization. The day before the ride the warriors were fitted with a bike to ensure a smooth ride. “This has been motivating him, to be on the bike he has to get out. He has had an attitude change, he is more positive, he’s motivated,” said McDonough, who is her husband’s caregiver. She was waiting for her husband to come from his ride with his companion dog.
Michelle Meyers’s husband William was also on the ride. Meyer was waiting for him with his cat, Precious, who is his emotional support pet. William was hit by an IED and suffers from PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and back and knee injury. “This helped him get out,” she said. Meyer and her husband heard about WWP through the Veterans Affairs. “It gives him energy, it releases stress to mingle with other soldiers… he’s very hesitant to make contact with others. Last night the Wounded Warrior Project brought the soldiers and their caregivers on a dinner cruise on the Hornblower. “They got to meet others,” she said. Meyer and her husband came from Arkansas to be part of this special event.
“When he is out with the other warriors he feels normal,” said Michelle McDonough of her husband. “There are people with all kinds of disabilities. These guys are proving that despite the disability they have the ability to find a new normal. All these programs have saved his life. He was in a bad place he could have easily left his world,” she said.
“These guys combined are very powerful… these guys would chose to do it again … I’m extremely proud to say my husband is a wounded warrior.”
McDonough said the WWP programs have given her husband a purpose - which is critical for healing. She referred to the Wounded Warrior emblem a soldier carrying another soldier. “Before he was the one being carried, now he’s the one doing the carrying,” she said.
As the riders approached Tidelands Park a small crowd was there to applaud them. The group stopped at the Coronado Fire Station to hydrate. At the end of the ride William Meyers seemed happy. He had ridden on a recumbent bike. “It was the first time riding this bike. I loved it. The ride was pretty fast with beautiful scenery, boats, … and the fire department was very friendly. They had water and oranges for us,” he said.
Dan Schnock, the Wounded Warrior ride director said the organization has been doing rides in San Diego since 2004 when a group of people rode their bikes from New York to San Diego. They were joined at the end of the ride by 15 warriors. “San Diego has some significance to us,” said Nick Kraus, one of WWP founders.
Rider Jorge Avalos who came from San Antonio is another warrior whose scars are not visible. He’s still on active duty in the U.S. Army and has been for 21 years. He suffered two traumatic injuries. The first was when he broke his back in action and the second was when he was cycling and was hit by a truck. As a result of the last injury he lost a kidney. He said it was great weather, and nice to see all the smiles on the warriors’ faces at the end. “This is something normally they would not want to do because of their injuries. You can ride, you are not dead. … this is the beginning stage for a lot of people. Everybody is here because we all understand what each one has gone through there is a bond, camaraderie,” he said.
Admiral Bruce Gillingham rode with the warriors for support. He is the Commander of the Naval Medical Center in San Diego. “We have rehabilitation programs for wounded warriors. We partner with Wounded Warriors. It’s an opportunity to show support, come out and understand what patients are doing,” he said.
Schnock explained how these type of events motivate the warriors to do more and socialize. “This is their platoon for the week. If someone falls behind another will pick them up,” he said.
WWP Soldier Ride is done to raise awareness about the warriors’ visible as well as psychological scars. WWP uses peer support, adaptive sports, health, nutrition and recreational services to help warriors reach independence and a good quality of life.
For more information visit www.woundedwarriorproject.org .