Wounded Warriors get warm welcome during annual Soldier Ride

Published 4:03 pm Thursday, April 18, 2024

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The Outer Banks was privileged to host a Soldier Ride, a division of the Wounded Warrior Project that focuses on health and wellness for veterans.

The program began in 2004 with the goal of providing “a long-term path to recovery for every warrior through movement,” says the organization’s website.

Men and women from all branches of military are invited to participate in a four-day adaptive cycling event. Bicycles are provided to match ability or skill level – ranging from regular upright bikes to one hand cycles to tandem incumbent bikes.

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The program serves men and women who have been injured in any capacity, including the loss of limbs or eyesight, or who have suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome or traumatic brain injuries. Those participating in Soldier Rides, said regional coordinator Si Wilson, have experienced “everything from very, very visible amputees to completely invisible PTSD.”

The focus of the ride is to get outside and be active alongside brothers and sisters in arms. The Outer Banks was chosen for the second year in a row because of its scenic environment, its bike-friendly paths, and the community’s support of veterans.

“The most important part of what we do is not miles per hour but smiles per hour,” said Wilson, who was with the group alongside teammate Sean Gilbert.

“Manteo and the Outer Banks – everyone is super supportive. It takes the experience to another level,” Wilson said.

Sixteen Warriors arrived in Nags Head on Tuesday evening, April 10, 2024.  The next morning, they took the Hatteras ferry to Ocracoke, where their bicycles were waiting. They rode into Ocracoke for lunch at SmacNally’s Raw Bar, receiving a spontaneously enthusiastic welcome from the other patrons. Though the restaurant discounted their meals, Wilson said many people offered to pay for their lunch in support of the veterans.

On Thursday, the ride continued in Manteo. The group gathered at Roanoke Island Festival Park and rode into Wanchese, passing crowds of community members holding American flags and cheering on the riders. Warriors toured Bayliss Boatworks and rode along the docks at the marina before heading back to Manteo Elementary.

As the group drew near to the school, they were greeted by hundreds of smiling children lined up outside.

“The school was next level,” Wilson said. “They kids made signs and cards. There was not a dry eye in the house. The kids were outside chanting ‘USA! USA!’ from a ways away. All these warriors were putting their sunglasses on. It was really touching, showing them they are still loved and appreciated.”

Many people and organizations supported the Solider Ride including local facilitator Celie Florence, Dr. Dan Jones, Chef Wes Stepp of NC Coast Grill, Blue Point in Duck, SmacNally’s Raw Bar, Cosmo’s Pizza and the Holiday Inn at Nags Head.

Another Soldier Ride in the Outer Banks is planned for spring of 2025. For more information on participating in the ride or supporting the program, contact Wilson at swilson@woundedwarriorproject.org.