Thirty-five miles with my not so skinny butt perched on a very skinny bike seat on a spring morning in sunny Florida is a daunting idea. Never before had I attempted or seriously thought of taking on such a challenge. But, my beautiful daughter, who works for WWP suggested I join her team. Last Saturday I arose at 6AM to accompany Lindsay, Matt, Louis and Brad, also known in Team GTL (in Jersey Shore Guido culture … “Gym,Tan, Laundry” ) in support of Wounded Warrior Projects “Soldier Ride Jacksonville”.
Wounded Warrior Project is a non-profit organization headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida with offices in Washington DC and New York City. The mission of WWP is to honor and empower wounded warriors by “fostering the most successful, well-adjusted generation of wounded warriors in this nation’s history.” It was founded by a group of Veterans and friends in Roanoke, Virginia to help servicemen and women. Thru fundraising events such as Soldier Ride WWP is able to provide a signature backpack with comfortable clothing and toiletries as well as support materials to the injured soldier as soon as they reach a military hospital like Walter Reed. Their vision is to help soldiers on the road to healing both mentally and physically. This certainly seemed to fly in the face of the returning Viet Nam Veterans of my era and that is a good thing.
The morning sun was just peaking thru when we pulled out of our drive in Lou’s Ford F150 carrying an assortment of 5 bicycles that would hopefully lead us across the finish line. Matt was the only team member to have attempted such a feat. His confidence was encouraging as well as intimidating. I am 61.5 years old. What am I thinking? Every other member on our team is 35 years younger than me! Plus, Tom expressed his lack of confidence at dinner the night before when he asked me what was the farthest I had ridden recently…or EVER for that matter. By noon I would know what I was made of and so would everyone else.
When we pulled into the WWP HQ parking lot it was filled with about 250 bikers plus Jacksonville Police officers whowould escort us along our route. A color guard was assembled and the opening ceremony was under way. The Chief Development Director, Steve Nardizzi started things off and turned the mic over to Dan Nevins, a wounded warrior and Executive VP of Events who told his story of how the WWP backpack he received at Walter Reed after losing one leg and learning he would probably lose the second helped to encourage him more than anything else that day. What an incredible organization this is. I was proud to be there and excited about giving this my all.
The color guard marched, we stood and sang the National Anthem and before I could retreat Team GTL was crossing the bottlenecked starting line to begin our journey. It was very exciting to see the streets lined with flag waving supporters young and old cheering us on.
The wounded warriors hand pedal on adaptive bicycles in a group in the lead. Lindsay had told us not to pass them as a sign of respect and more importantly, to stay out of their path. Once these soldiers get going it takes a lot to slow and start back up. So, it is best to steer clear.
The route took us through town about 10 miles and over a bridge toward a shady residential area just bordering the St. Johns River. The tree covered streets and the beautifully landscaped yards made the ride a pleasure rather than a challenge. I found myself easing into a steady pace and happy to be keeping up with our team. We laughed and joked along the way and continued to come upon pockets of supporters including baby strollers with small flags and even dogs with bandanas and tee shirts all supporting the soldiers.
We averaged 12 miles per hour and looped back to the finish line three hours later at noon. I had done it with only one little break along the way. The rest of the team also finished. Matt could only restrain himself and stay with us for about two-thirds of the ride. Finally he unleashed his borrowed street bike and sped out of our sight. Brad was a hoot, just being Brad throughout the ride, speeding up then lagging back, but finishing just ahead of me. Lindsay finished just behind me and deserves a medal for encouraging Louis and completing the ride on her rusty old “Specialized” bike that had two nearly barren tires and only a couple of working gears. Louis was able to finish with his knee throbbing the last ten miles, but providing us with many laughs and great music from his ipod with speakers.
It was a beautiful day. Not only did Team GLT finish Soldier Ride Jacksonville 2011, we collected $800 in donations supporting the ride and we proved to ourselves we could accomplish anything if we just believe.