Ride to Recovery: Vets to cycle through York on the road to NYC for 9/11
More than 100 injured veterans will pedal into York County Sunday, Sept. 11, stopping overnight in York as the United Health Care Ride 2 Recovery makes its four-day, 320-mile trek from Washington, D.C., to New York City in honor of those who lost their lives on 9/11 and the many more who've made sacrifices since.
Some of their wounds will be visible, others will not.
In addition to honoring the nearly 3,000 lives lost at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in a field in western Pennsylvania, the Ride 2 Recovery serves as a way to get veterans struggling with disabilities and with thoughts of suicide to come together and find strength in each other and in their communities, organizers said.
The riders — on hand cycles, recumbents, tandems and traditional upright bicycles — will stop over Sunday night at the Quality Inn in York and will be hosted for a dinner by the Red Lion American Legion Post 543 before departing at 7:45 the next morning for the next leg of their trip, which will bring them to Philadelphia.
100 riders: This year, unlike in years past, the event has been condensed from a seven-day ride to just four days. Shortening the timeframe also shortened the route, bringing the cyclists through York, spokeswoman Sheri Goldberg said. It also meant reducing the number of riders from about 150 to 100.
"The first couple of days of our trip, the veterans will cover 100 miles a day," she said. "The last day will be about 45 miles."
Covering more miles per day over a route with more hills than on those previous rides proved too difficult a task for some of the more seriously injured veterans, Goldberg said.
State Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, is scheduled to address the group before it sets off Monday morning,
The community is invited to come out, meet and speak with the veterans and welcome them as they arrive or encourage them the next morning as they depart, Goldberg said.
"The receptions are always so phenomenal," she said. "Especially in small cities and towns along the routes."
She said the routes the vets take usually wind through smaller towns to avoid major traffic areas. When the cyclists crest a hill or come around a bend into any given city along the way, they are often met with communities, sometimes the whole town, greeting them and waving flags, Goldberg said.
Mayors, city officials, fire departments that hoist huge flags overhead often come out to celebrate the veterans' sacrifices and support their journey, she added.
"I can give you story after story about how they roll out the red carpet for us," Goldberg said.
Service members: Along with the passengers on each plane and the victims at Ground Zero and the Pentagon, 343 NYFD firefighters, 23 NYPD police officers, 37 Port Authority officers and several emergency medical professionals were killed in the attacks on 9/11. Since then, almost 6,000 U.S. servicemen and women have been killed in combat in what has come to be collectively known as The War on Terror.
Those veterans who do come home often carry scars both visible and invisible. Goldberg said the upcoming ride to New York is as much about them as it is about the lives lost in the initial attack on our country.
Sadly, an estimated 22 veterans a day are committing suicide due to a myriad of issues they are confronted with when they come home, she said. Ride 2 Recovery hosts rides from city to city for such causes as suicide prevention and helping women who suffered sexual assaults while serving.
"We are trying with these rides to reach out to those vets, to get them off the couch and out of the house," Goldberg said.
Joining Ride 2 Recovery provides veterans with a chance to belong to something again, to enjoy that camaraderie, to do something physical and, most importantly, to know someone out there cares, she said.
"I've had many veterans tell me this program saved their lives. They come up to me and say, 'My life was saved by your program,'" Goldberg said. "Programs like Ride 2 Recovery go out, help vets get better and not feel like nobody cares."
And none of the costs associated with the events are passed on to the vets.
United: In addition to big corporate sponsors such as United Health Care — and this year United Airlines is donating "Hero Miles" or free airfare to vets in honor of the 18 United employees who died when hijackers flew Flight 77 into the Pentagon — much of the funding for Ride 2 Recovery comes from smaller businesses and personal donations.
Interested businesses or citizens can "Become a Hero" by visiting the Ride 2 Recovery website at www.ride2recovery.com. There, supporters can donate money, print out maps of routes such as the one coming through York, and find out when and where they can come out and support the vets.
Veterans also can find out where they can sign up, get help and start cycling with other veterans, Goldberg said.
"We can hook you up with a bike. We can hook you up with a group of riders. We can get you what you need to get started," she said.
Goldberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Reach John Joyce at email@example.com or on Twitter @JohnJoyceYD.