Vets on Rehab Ride Stop in Fort Lee Friday
More than 200 cyclists arrived at the Glen Cove Mansion Thursday as they travel 330 miles from Massachusetts to New York City, ultimately finishing in Fort Lee, on a mission of healing.
As the string of cyclists glided through the entrance to the Glen Cove Mansion and came to a stop in front, some swung a leg over their bike in a dismount while others with no leg to swing lifted themselves into wheelchairs.
The riders form a unit of men and women on a mission to heal themselves and each other, a six-day rehabilitation ride for injured bodies and minds that started in Quincy, Mass. and will end in Fort Lee Friday.
Thursday's 90-mile leg took the cyclists from the Orient Point Ferry west along 25A through Rocky Point, Port Jefferson, Kings Park, Northport, Huntington and Oyster Bay.
"The conversations on the bikes can be pretty deep," said Debora Spano, director of media relations for Ride 2 Recovery, a program founded in 2008 that equips and sends injured veterans on marathon rides throughout the nation.
The idea is to get them out there, exercising and overcoming physical and psychological wounds side by side with the only people who can relate to their experiences.
"If we can get them to talk to each other, maybe then they can talk to their families," Spano said.
That mission is what has made this event Army Sgt. Nathan Hunt's 19th ride.
"I've learned to live life," said Hunt, 31, who was stationed in East Baghdad in 2008 on his third combat tour in five years.
He took shrapnel in both legs from an explosion that April, and saw his best friend get hit in the hip.
"He didn't survive," Hunt said.
Hunt was back at work four weeks later searching for Improvised Explosive Devices, which meant driving three miles per hour down city streets looking for bombs.
One found him first. It was an EFP – Explosively Formed Penetrator – designed to focus its blast in one direction. It took off both his legs.
The loss of his limbs ushered Hunt into a phase of life filled with what he calls "new normals." Raised in a competitive and athletic family – martial arts and kickboxing were his siblings' chosen activities – the injuries present Hunt with an opportunity to compete with the perceptions others have of his abilities.
Dealing with the emotional damage was another task altogether. It took time, but Hunt said he is at a place where he can talk about the loss of his legs and buddies without becoming overwhelmed by the memories. His appreciation for life is something he likes to share with others who struggle, he said.
"I try to show 'em they're lucky to be here," said Hunt. "There's so many of our friends that didn't make it. But we're still here, and a lot of guys are still living and haven't accepted their injuries. Once you accept your injuries and you can live with them is when you can move past that and start being happy."
Parked on the mansion's lawn were a number of handcycles for riders with severe leg injuries. Each had a "push bar" sticking up from the rear, a handle that a fellow rider can grab to assist in a hill's ascent, which is much harder for handcyclists.
That sort of comraderie is one of the draws for Ulysses Adams, 36, of Vacaville, Calif., a Marine who suffered a gunshot wound to the chest during the conflict with Iraq in the late 1990's.
Adams's Post Traumatic Stress Disorder wasn't immediately diagnosed, and it took him some time to realize he needed help. Back home around civilians who he felt could never understand what he went through, he began to isolate.
Ride 2 Recovery brought him out of that, he said, lending him the same sense of comraderie he enjoyed in the military. That in turn has helped him socialize with the general public.
"Quite honestly, it's the best therapy I've had," said Adams. "Here, we all speak the same language."
Riders were joined by Mayor Ralph Suozzi and state Assemb. Charles Lavine, D-Glen Cove, for dinner, and embarked the following morning for Manhattan.