By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD - The inexperience was worth the experience for Spc. Antonnette McWilliams.
Before this week, the Fort Hood soldier has been on a bicycle five times in her 26 years of life. Since getting back on one this week, she said she has fallen a lot.
McWilliams, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, Warrior Transition Brigade, was just one in a herd of bicyclists who began the next stage of their journey at Fort Hood on Thursday morning as part of the Ride 2 Recovery's "Don't Mess With Texas Challenge."
Ride 2 Recovery is a nationwide effort that gets wounded warriors active through organized bicycle rides while bringing awareness to the challenges they overcome, according to information from the organization's website, www.ride2recovery.com.
Ride 2 Recovery hosts challenges across the United States. The Texas ride started Monday in San Antonio and ends Saturday in Arlington.
The group arrived in Killeen on Wednesday to a cheering crowd of community members and soldiers and departed III Corps headquarters on Thursday to the same. On their way off post, the riders were cheered on by students at Meadows Elementary School and soldiers from Fort Hood units lining the streets.
Among the riders Thursday was Fort Hood's Staff Sgt. Patrick Zeigler and Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War.
Lt. Gen. Robert Cone, III Corps and Fort Hood commander, said the riders represented what was best about the United States, the military and the human spirit. These men and women volunteered and sacrificed for the country and now lead and inspire its people.
This is McWilliams' first Ride 2 Recovery and she said she'd definitely do it again.
"It's just awesome," she said. "It's an awesome experience."
The veterans who participate are surviving with wounds - physical and mental - and the rides not only bring awareness to the public, but also to other service members living with those issues.
"Being wounded doesn't stop me from living my life," McWilliams said.
She rode 65 miles Wednesday, the longest bicycle ride of her life. It's all mental, she said, and she had to tell herself she could do it.
"You have to fight yourself to keep going," she added.
The other riders, some of whom hand-pedal recumbent bicycles, are positive and helpful, McWilliams said.
It is those with the most severe physical wounds who inspired and motivated many of the participants.
"I've fallen a million times, but I get back up and keep riding because I'm never going to quit," McWilliams said. "I figure if the recumbents can make it, then I can make it, too."