Memorial Day weekend usually conjures up memories of a family BBQ or a day at the beach. What it doesn’t is a 100K mountain bike ride with a former president. For 14 veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan those are the memories they will have after the 3rd Annual Warrior 100K mountain bike ride that took place May 23-25, 2013, outside of Waco, Texas.
The George W. Bush Institute organized the Warrior 100K event as part of its Military Service Initiative, and President George W. Bush rode with the participants. The three-day ride took place at Prairie Chapel Ranch in Crawford, Texas. The 14 veterans who rode have suffered various physical and mental injuries related to their service. Maj. Kent G. Solheim, for example, lost a leg in Afghanistan, but is still serving in the U.S. Army thanks to a waiver, and has deployed twice since the injury.
Cycling, like many other physical challenges, is helpful and healing to veterans who return with the scars of war. “By means of cycling, this is how I found myself again, that competitive edge,” said Staff Sgt. Omar Romney. That competitive spirit and camaraderie among veterans is what events like the Warrior 100K are designed to draw out. Many of the veterans were also honored to meet Bush, who has the utmost respect for them. Spc. José Santiago appreciated the opportunity: “I served under him, so I think that’s a great honor to meet President Bush.”
“I’ll be riding across the deserts of Texas with wounded warriors to show the unbelievable character of our men and women in uniform…it’s a ride to herald people who were dealt a severe blow and said, ‘I’m not going to let it tear me down.’”
– President George W. Bush
Companies such as Trek Bikes, American Airlines, Jelly Belly, and Bell Helicopter sponsored the Warrior 100K. They did so in an understated way, so as not to draw attention away from the servicemen who participated. In the case of Trek Bikes, they provided every veteran who participated a bike, but didn’t issue so much as a press release about it. They also helped to customize each bike with special controls for veterans who may have lost limbs. The 2013 Warrior 100K occurred around the time Trek Bikes was launching their Fuel 26er, so the veterans received one of the most desirable bikes on the market.
The attitude these 14 veterans brought to the Warrior 100K bike ride was contagious. As Staff Sgt. Joshua Krueger put it, “you’re getting injured and it’s changing, but it’s not always a change for the worse.” Krueger prefers to look at the bright side, “I get to learn how to do all this stuff a new way now, and yeah, sometimes it’s harder, sometimes there are some trials and tribulations with learning that, but finding out how to do that stuff and then conquering that is probably a very lofty goal, and it’s very rewarding when you get done with it.” That positivity was on display this Memorial Day weekend in Texas.