Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Ever since we were children, the wind on our faces exhilarated us. Whether running as fast as you could or the first time accelerating on a bicycle, the feeling was exuberance. As adults, many of us seek ways to recreate those moments.

One way is to saddle up on an iron horse. Motorcycles help connect us to that childhood experience. For injured veterans, I find, it provides so much more. The promise of a motorcycle ride can convince a warrior to get out of isolation and connect with other veterans. The camaraderie built on the open highway can create new roads to recovery. And the support developed during these shared experiences lasts well after the ride, serving to refuel an individual’s personal tank and provide motivation to achieve his or her personal goals.

Air Force veteran Jermain Collins felt these bonds form on a recent ride in Houston.

“The other warriors, like me, seemed to have a great time and enjoyed the ride,” Jermain said. “Riding on the open road with the wind in my face gave me a sense of peace and tranquility that no medication can offer.”

While each veteran’s journey is different, countless other warriors share Jermain’s sentiment. Last summer we connected warriors from Southern California, Arizona, and Nevada for a ride that spanned several cities and all branches of service.

“As soon as you get on that bike, you are not thinking about what you have gone through, you are thinking about where you are going,” said Navy veteran Raymond “Doc” Andalio, one of the veterans who made that ride. “We ride, weave through beautiful traffic; we feel free. It’s the only freedom we have at that moment. We all served. Many of us were taken from that duty. But when we ride, we understand the importance of that freedom, and we are blessed.”

Wounded warriors face transitions when they return from the battlefield. For some, it is a task they are ill-equipped to handle. Injury abruptly ended their career before they could put together a plan for life after the military. That is where veterans service organizations like Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) come in. Whether it is help finding the right fit in a civilian career, mental health care to address post-traumatic stress, or just a fun outing to get out of the house and connect with other veterans in a comfortable environment — WWP is there.

Doc said to ride is to heal.

“It is therapy! Wind therapy. You twist the throttle and enjoy the wind.”

Isolation is one of the most significant struggles wounded warriors deal with after serving their country. It can be difficult knowing how to overcome that challenge and rekindle bonds similar to those formed in the military. While you may be alone on your motorcycle, you are not alone on the ride.

“The people you meet are amazing,” Doc said. “You ride once, and then it is instantly ‘when are we going to ride again?’”

You meet other riders on the road and at each stop. Not all are veterans; not all warriors are from the same branch of service. But the camaraderie is there.

“It is kind of like the Armed Forces,” Doc said. “But instead of Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines, you have Yamaha, Harley-Davidson, Honda, and Victory, or any other brand of motorcycle. They all have something in common — the ride. The next thing you know, you have a network, then you have a friend who knows someone who can help you with your job search. Then you have another person to ride with.”

That network of riders grows from coast to coast. WWP connects warriors with one another on these rides to help grow their networks. It also gives us a chance to make sure warriors know about the programs and services we offer that help in mental and physical health, financial wellness, independence, and government and community relations. And warriors never pay a penny for our programs — they paid their dues on the battlefield.

As I mentioned, one way to get warriors around other veterans is by hosting a motorcycle ride. The freedom of two wheels appeals to veterans, and some say it can be therapeutic. It is a chance to feel that wind in your face.

“The chance to ride with other warriors was a great way to relax,” Jermain said.

“When I am riding with other warriors, I feel like I am floating,” Doc said. “I know we are going in one direction, wherever that is.”

John Roberts is the National Service Director of the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), which since 2003 has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambitions. Learn more: http://newsroom.woundedwarriorproject.org/about-us. For more information, please contact Rob Louis at rlouis@woundedwarriorproject.org or call 1-904-627-0432.

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