FORT HOOD, Texas - More than 20 cyclists participating in the Project Hero: Ride 2 Recovery Texas Challenge were greeted by Soldiers at III Corps and Fort Hood Headquarters before making their way to Waco, Texas, April 28.
The 1st Cavalry Division Band played fun, upbeat music as the riders made a few laps around the flagpole circle, saying hello to the Soldiers.
The non-profit, Project Hero, was founded in 2008 to help veterans, service members and first responders, suffering with both physical and mental injuries, in the hope of bettering their quality of life.
One of the ways they carry out their mission is with the Ride 2 Recovery, and more specifically, the Texas Challenge. Their route begins in San Antonio, and over the course of a week, they bike all the way to Fort Worth.
Many cyclists participate in the event yearly, including Rosalind Roger who has taken part in the Texas Challenge four times. The Army veteran was excited for the pitstop, specifically at Fort Hood, since she was stationed here in 1985.
“It’s an amazing experience,” she stated. “For some of us, it’s therapy. For some of us, it’s just to get our minds in a good place and be surrounded by our comrades. It’s just a blessing to be here.”
Roger said the Texas Challenge is therapeutic because the veterans are among their peers, sharing similar experiences and challenges.
“Depending on what you’re going through in life, the ups and downs, the challenges that we (face), distractions and everything, it puts you in a mindset. For me it’s a very peaceful mindset,” she explained.
“It amplifies the fact that you’re with other Soldiers that are going through their own struggles and everything,” Roger said. “We’re here for one another, to empower one another, and make (each other) better every day.”
Veteran Demetrio Arroyo, who was participating for a fourth time, rode along with his friend and fellow veteran, Tarrelle Steward, who was riding in the Texas Challenge for the first time.
“He helped me get through some struggles and difficulties.” Steward said about Arroyo. “He said, ‘Hey, this is a good way to start dealing with some issues.’ So, I started training with him.”
Maj. Gen. Steven Gilland, deputy commander of III Corps and Fort Hood, welcomed the bikers and commended them for taking on the Texas Challenge.
He also said even though they’re individual riders, it’s still about togetherness.
“It’s not just about riding a bike. It’s about being with others. It’s about team effort. It’s about learning about other people, and they learn about you,” he said. “It’s not just a bike ride. It’s therapy. It’s assistance. It’s recovery, and that’s important.”
Gilland listed off some statistics to show the positive impact Project Hero has on veterans.
“Project Hero (has) built more than 200 adaptive bikes for injured veterans, donating more than 2,500 bikes to veterans and logging more than 30,000 bicycling miles in 30 states and six countries,” he said. “Their record of elimination and a decrease in prescription drugs is as much as 65%.”
Arroyo is one of those veterans who’s been able to decrease the amount of prescriptions he has to take.
“When I first got brought into this, it was through the WTU program back at Fort Knox (Kentucky). At the time, (I had) depression, anxiety. I was on nine pills and somebody else introduced me to the program,” he said. “After participating in a couple of rides, I was able to speak with other veterans.
“I’m proud to say now that I take (only) two pills ... and others as needed,” he said. “The anxiety’s still there, but I can manage.”
Since he’s experienced such a positive change in his quality of life, Arroyo tries to encourage other veterans to become involved in the ride, just like Steward.
“I like to bring other people in that are going through the same thing that I was going through and show them that there’s a different way,” Arroyo said. “Show them that this is a way to get back what we feel that we lost.”
Todd Setter, chief executive officer of Project Hero, thanked everyone for their warm welcome and gave Gilland a cycling jersey signed by the riders before they began their ride to Waco.
“Thank you so much for hosting us again,” he said to the crowd. “We look forward to seeing you next year.”