Generally when we do these "sponsor" rides it's somehow about "us," the team, the racing, etc. This was a really refreshing break from that, since it's my first event where we were there simply to support other people. The team has been doing these rides all year, so many of the participants knew something about who we are, why we're there, and so forth. But in a nice change of pace, we could just ride and listen to the very compelling stories of other people and what they do on bikes, and how riding has changed their lives.
Before the ride we were advised that in addition to those with obvious physical injuries, many of the participants are recovering from PTSD and other mental traumas, and we shouldn't feel insulted if we're met with a bit of reservedness. Generally it seems like the "issue" of veteran recovery is highly politicized, and their stories are tugged back and forth by people, politicians, media trying to appropriate their stories to show how compassionate and patriotic they are. Then when it's no longer en vogue to talk about, the VAs are left forgotten once again. This ride felt like a rare exception; it was completely non-political, no one was asking for anything or trying to sell something. The purpose is simply to spread the word that fighting in wars really effs a lot of people up, and it can be really difficult to come back from those injuries, but these 200-300 soldiers have managed to do so at various levels and bicycling helped them on their journey.
The vibe on the ride was awesome and if I were ever going to do a "charity" ride I would for sure sign up for one of these (non-military can ride with a minimum donation). Having never been in the military I can't confirm this 100%, but these guys ride bikes together like you'd imagine army guys to ride bikes together. They stop and eat donuts, they tell really awesome jokes, they never EVER give up, they push each other up hills, and they appreciate every minute of it.
There aren't very many times when it feels like bike racing "accomplishes" much in the world. And to be clear, we really didn't do much on this ride. But it goes a long way for me to see how professional sports fit into the social fabric, and how athletes can affect other people's lives beyond what bike they chose to buy. To the few guys I got to ride with and who shared their stories with me, Carlos and Nate in particular, thank you for your commitment to your job, your families, your own recovery, and the perspective you offer the rest of us in doing so.