At least 50 wounded veterans and supporters cycling from Austin to Dallas/Fort Worth as part of the 12th annual Project Hero Texas Challenge, arrived in Killeen on Wednesday.
Cyclists departed from Austin on Tuesday and will ride into Fort Hood and III Corps headquarter building for a welcoming ceremony this morning. The event benefits Project Hero, a nonprofit organization that assists veterans and first responders recover from traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder and build resiliency in his or her daily lives.
“This event is invitation only and all our veterans are hand-selected to make the challenge,” said Peter Bylsma, the director of marketing communications for Project Hero. “And it’s a challenge, 35 to 50 miles a day over several days through Texas. You got to be ready for it and those who aren’t, we help them along anyway, nobody gets left behind, it’s all about everyone’s success.”
Bylsma said Project Hero has national research programs and have partnered with Texas A&M University to develop the first wearable post-traumatic stress disorder monitor. He said the cycling events are held throughout the country along with single-day events to raise money for the organization’s programs.
Bylsma said veterans that participate in the challenges achieve a sense of community and therapeutic healing.
“Cycling is unique in the way it works for healing and for mental and physical development and good health,” Bylsma said.
Patrick Kelly from Las Vegas spent more than six years in the Marine Corps before being medically retired for injuries received while serving on active duty. This was his first cycling event. Kelly, who is confined to a wheelchair, has a specially adapted Catrike 700 recumbent bike, to accommodate his injuries.
“It gives me my freedom and it also helps my mental well-being,” Kelly said. “It’s about camaraderie, because it’s the closest I’ll ever get to be back in the military because these people understand me.”
San Antonio resident Michael Lage completed three deployments to Iraq before retiring after 20 years of service in the Army. He was severely burned, lost his right thumb and left hand from an improvised explosive device while in Iraq in 2007.
“I started cycling as rehabilitation physically and then I realized it started helping me more mentally,” Lage said. “Project Hero came to Fort Sam (Houston) looking for guys to cycle in 2012 and I’ve been cycling with them since.”
This event was the first time Killeen resident Aubrey Gaines, a retired Army sergeant major, cycled in support of Project Hero, which organizes the cycling events around the country, also known as Ride to Recovery rides.
“I think once you retire and exit the Army, you’re not leaving a community, but you’re not as connected with that community, so you’re trying to find your place with people who have served,” Gaines said. “Coming out here to ride to recovery I found that not only is everybody recovering, and then there is that camaraderie with each other.”
Killeen Major Jose Segarra greeted the cyclists when they rolled into Killeen about 1 p.m. and stopped at Cleo Bay Subaru for a luncheon and ceremony.
“I appreciate what you guys are doing, continue on and I hope to see you again next year,” Segarra said.
Cleo Bay Subaru has been hosting the local event for years.
“We’ve partnered with Project Hero and Ride to Recovery through difference charitable events and it’s been a great deal for four years now,” Mark McGee, the Cleo Bay Subaru general manager, said. “It’s very important to support our wounded warriors and this is a chance for them for rehabilitation and we want to be a pit stop here and let them know Killeen cares and Cleo Bay Subaru cares.”
The cyclists and supporters are scheduled to arrive in Dallas/Fort Worth on Saturday, completing the nearly 300 mile trek.