Johnathan Dade hadn’t been on a bicycle since high school, but a friend convinced him to ride in 2011, after noticing Dade was struggling with his transition from military life.
The Georgetown resident left the Navy in 2009 after six years in the service.
“I didn’t know where I fit,” he said. “I was gaining weight and really depressed and stuff, and he wanted me to cycle with him one day. Ever since then, I’ve been cycling.”
Tuesday afternoon, Dade and nearly 200 other veterans rode into Killeen on a six-day tour across the state with Ride 2 Recovery.
The nonprofit organization uses bicycling as a method of healing and recovery for veterans suffering from physical and mental injuries.
Riding, Dade said, is a form of therapy for him.
“I do this instead of going to the psychologist or using medication because it really all goes back to how you’re feeling, how you’re able to connect with people, and for me, this is more effective as a way to rebuild that connection,” he said.
After entering the area from their morning start in Georgetown, about half of the 175 cyclists made their first local pit stop at the Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers in Killeen. The other half went to the restaurant’s Harker Heights location.
All of the veterans enjoyed free frozen custard and a cool place to rest after peddling nearly 50 miles.
The restaurant chain raised $1,600 to contribute toward the nonprofit’s $10 million goal.
“We want to be able to help any kind of veterans group that we can, locally or nationally,” said Chris Villarreal, area manager for Freddy’s.
Fort Hood provided dinner Tuesday for the riders, who will leave from the installation about 10 a.m. today, following a ceremony.
After cycling about 70 miles, the cyclists will make their next stop at the Veterans Affairs medical center in Waco about 2:30 p.m.
Ride 2 Recovery’s Texas Challenge goes from Houston to Fort Worth, with stops in College Station, Georgetown, Killeen, Waco and Cleburne.
“The state itself has been great,” said Sheri Goldberg, public relations director for Ride 2 Recovery. “You don’t find that kind of welcoming that you get in Texas.”