After battling bone cancer for decades and undergoing 15 surgeries, Air Force veteran George Feriend finds solace through cycling.
Riding his adaptive bicycle has been life-changing, he said, and gives him something else to focus on.
“When you’re on the road doing this, you feel like you’re free,” Feriend, of Reno, said Saturday while getting ready for the Las Vegas Honor Ride. “It’s like you have no disability.”
It was the eighth year of the Las Vegas ride, one of a handful of weekend events for Veterans Day. Participants in the noncompetitive, fundraising cycling event could choose from three routes, ranging from about 19 to 64 miles, starting at the Clark County Government Center in downtown Las Vegas.
The ride was organized by Project Hero, a national nonprofit founded in 2008 that provides services for first responders and veterans affected by injury or post-traumatic stress disorder. Project Hero has 55 chapters throughout the country that organize Ride 2 Recovery events, hero rides and multiday challenge rides.
The nonprofit works to eliminate suicides among veterans, said Jack Shepard, New York-based national events director for Project Hero.
Feriend served for six years in the the Air Force in Libya and Grenada during the Cold War in the 1980s. When he was diagnosed in 1987, he was given six months to live. Feriend still has bone cancer, which was deemed a service-connected disability.
Five years ago, he got involved with the Project Hero chapter in Reno. Saturday was his fourth time participating in the Las Vegas ride.
Despite having a bad 2019, Feriend said, “I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”
Near the starting line Saturday, 20 American flags were on display, representing the 20 veterans on average who die by suicide each day, Shepard said.
When cycling, a rider has to concentrate on what’s ahead — hills, traffic and changing gears — and it takes their mind off their current state, Shepard said. And for many veterans, he said, it’s the first sense of normalcy they’ve experienced since coming home.
Of the approximately 600 cyclists at Saturday’s race, more than 150 were veterans — 101 of whom were injured — Shepard said.
Shepard told the crowd if they know veterans who want assistance, Project Hero can help them start cycling.
Just before the ride, a North Las Vegas couple got married as family, friends and about 600 other people watched.
Patrick Kelly and Andi Irons exchanged vows on a stage near the starting line while wearing their spandex cycling attire. A service dog was onstage next to Kelly, who was in a wheelchair. The couple have been together for two and a half years.
A lot of their friends were also participating in the Honor Ride, so they decided it would be the ideal place to tie the knot.
Kelly served in the Marine Corps for nine years before being medically discharged, Irons told the Review-Journal after the wedding ceremony.
After taking a few minutes to take photos and hug well-wishers, they hurried off to get ready for the race.
Henderson cyclist Ryan Cooper chatted with a couple of friends before the race. His 21-year-old son, Sidney Cooper, is in his third year serving in the Air Force and is based in Homestead, Florida.
Sidney Cooper, a Shadow Ridge High School alumnus, is scheduled to be deployed to South Korea for a year, starting in April.
“As a father,” Ryan said, “it’s kind of tough having him gone.”
How to help
To make a donation to Project Hero, visit weareprojecthero.org.