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An empowering ride: Veterans bicycle to Flight 93 National Memorial

September 15, 2018

A number of veterans were in Somerset on Thursday morning to begin a bicycle ride to the Flight 93 National Memorial. It was part of the Wounded Warrior Project’s Soldier Ride Across America.

“For me and the rest of us, it’s about empowering others to get up and see that there is more out there for them,” said Army veteran Shonda Gloude-Jones, of Raeford, North Carolina. “Like warriors who sit on the couch and see us doing these journeys and thinking there isn’t anything out there for them. They may be on the verge of suicide and see that there is actually resources they can take and steps they can take to help make them better.”

The ride commemorates the 15-year anniversary of Chris Carney’s historic coast-to-coast journey in support of injured veterans, which spurred the creation of Wounded Warrior Project’s Soldier Ride program.

In preparation for this ride, each warrior maintained a rigorous at-home training routine and joined the organization at regional cycling camps that brought individual riding skills to a new level.

It began in 2004 when Carney, of Long Island, New York, cycled more than 5,000 miles coast to coast to help raise awareness for injured veterans after hearing the story of John Fernandez, an Army veteran who lost both legs during combat. The following year, several combat warriors who returned from Operation Enduring Freedom with visible and invisible injuries joined Carney for another cross-country ride.

“This trek across the nation redefined personal strengths and limitations,” Wounded Warrior Project spokeswoman Vesta Anderson said in a news release. “Despite many obstacles, the group of warriors refused to give up – using the experience as a catalyst to show the public and themselves that with support and motivation, anything is possible.”

Sharda Perez, logistics coordinator, said the 12 wounded veterans riding across the country have a sense of partnership and camaraderie.

“We give them any support they need whether it’s nutrition or coaching on the bikes,” Perez said. “We’re generally here for them. It’s about them. It’s about honoring our post-9/11 veterans and honoring them themselves.”

Veronica Ko, who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Kosovo while she served in the Army from 1992 to 2013, was one of the riders.

“It’s been really incredible. We started in New York City at ground zero, which is what the Wounded Warriors support,” Ko said. “From there we went to the 9/11 memorial in the Pentagon. And today we’re going to go to the crash site.”

Gloude-Jones, who was injured when her parachute didn’t open at 200 feet during a military exercise, said the project had helped her tremendously.

“The soldier ride was the first event I had ever done with them,” she said. “It was the first time I had rode a bike in 18 years due to my injuries. And it was the best feeling in the world to be able to get on a bicycle.”