Supporters waving American flags greeted more than 100 cyclists who rode into Richmond Hill Tuesday afternoon in a ride described as freeing for disabled veterans and first responders.
Local bike shop Game Changers Bike and Multisport hosted the group and served as a lunch stop in the seven-day, non-competitive ride that started in Jacksonville. Riders finish the 500-mile journey in Atlanta Sunday.
UnitedHealthcare sponsors the ride, called Ride 2 Recovery Beaches to Peaches Challenge, as a form of group therapy for military veterans and first responders. Non-profit Project Hero is also involved.
Rider and Iraqi War veteran Theolene Johnson described the ride as exciting that pushed her out of her comfort zone.
"I deal with anxiety where it’s very hard for me to be around people a lot of times, like I’ll start shaking a lot. I’ll even feel nauseous," Johnson said. "But when I’m riding, it’s a different feeling because I feel free and then I can socialize with the people around me. It’s very exhilarating."
Johnson, originally from Haiti, was stationed at Fort Stewart and deployed with the 3rd Infantry Division. Now, she lives in Miami, Fla.
"Ride 2 Recovery is so good," Johnson said. "I mean, you couldn’t ask for more."
Buddy Karolev, adaptive sports coordinator on Fort Stewart, explained how cyclists ride in a two-by-two formation with three ability groups.
"Part of my job is outreach to the community and work with a lot of non-profits and this non-profit (Project Hero) does a lot for veterans and we’ve been doing this for years," Karolev said. "This is very therapeutic. It’s just miles and miles and you meet other people going through the same issues you are and injuries."
The ride includes social events every night and veterans encourage each other during more challenging points in the ride.
"We have a double amputee riding an upright bike going over 500 miles," Karolev said. "It’s just amazing."
Game Changers Bike and Multisport co-owner John Cameron explained how Richmond Hill became a stop along the route.
"It’s mostly because we’re connected in with a lot of the riders at Fort Stewart," Cameron said. "We service bikes for the Warrior Transition Unit out at Fort Stewart."
Karolev asked if Game Changers Bike and Multisport would host and Cameron said it would be perfect.
"We have the facility to support it, so why not?" Cameron said.