Cyclists can show their support of military veterans Saturday by biking alongside them during the Honor Ride Las Vegas.
The self-paced bicycle ride will start and then finish at Mandalay Bay after riders traverse one of three courses that will take them as far as Hoover Dam. The ride is sponsored by Ride 2 Recovery, a national nonprofit that uses cycling to help rehabilitate injured veterans who have lost limbs, suffered traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder or other injuries. The money raised will go toward bikes, helmets and other gear that injured veterans need.
"The way I look at it, it helps the injured veterans by giving them opportunity to get back outside, return to a normal lifestyle without being afraid of how others will view them," says Juan Carlos Hernandez, a spokesman for the organization.
Hernandez, a former Chinook helicopter gunner in the Army, lost his right leg in 2009 after the helicopter he was riding in was shot down in Afghanistan.
The injury nearly destroyed his self-confidence. Hernandez, 25, had always been physically active, playing football and basketball before joining the Army in 2006. About six months after his injury, he heard about Ride 2 Recovery and decided to give it a try.
"Me, myself being injured, I appreciate the peer-to-peer mentoring we all get from the rides," says Hernandez, who lives in Georgia but plans to ride in the Las Vegas event. "It does a lot to build self-confidence. You meet other guys who, even though you weren't in the same unit, you can relate to the guys and their experiences. I think it's a great way of having that peer therapy."
Last year, about 50 riders, including veterans and the general public, participated in the honor ride. Organizers expect 300 to 400 riders this year. Participants don't have to be veterans; in fact, organizers encourage the public to come and show their support by riding. Advanced cyclists are needed to provide assistance to some injured riders.
"When you think about what they've been through in battle, they've put their lives out there for us, they're injured," says Scott Voeller, senior vice president of brand strategy and advertising for MGM Resorts. "This is the least I could do. ... It's such a small token considering their sacrifice. It's no sacrifice to me."
Voeller, an avid cyclist, was instrumental in bringing the Honor Ride to Mandalay Bay. Last year, he participated, sometimes using push bars attached to special bicycles to assist injured veterans through difficult terrain.
"I've been on some pretty fun rides," Voeller says. "This by far was the most rewarding."
Participants can choose from three distances: 13, 40 or 84 miles. The longer routes include a lap at the Las Vegas Speedway, with the 84-mile ride taking riders out to Lake Mead and Hoover Dam. A 200-meter Honor Race for kids ages 5 to 10 will also be held.
Registration costs $50 per rider. It comes with a shirt, route slip, rest stops and lunch. There is no charge for injured military, both active duty and retired, to participate.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org, visit active.com/donate/veterans or call 609-792-0709.
Contact reporter Sonya Padgett at email@example.com or 702-380-4564. Follow @StripSonya on Twitter.