Veterans, first responders bike 500 miles for 'hope, recovery an - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

Veterans, first responders bike 500 miles for 'hope, recovery and resilience'


Nearly 100 riders are cycling through Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois as part of a week-long bike ride to benefit veterans and first responders affected by PTSD and various injuries.

Organized by Project Hero, the ninth annual UnitedHealthcare Great Lakes Challenge began in Minnetonka Monday morning. By Monday evening, the riders arrived at Centerstone Plaza Hotel in Rochester. Tuesday morning, the riders will return to the road, cycling to La Crosse, Wis. They will then make several other stops throughout Wisconsin and Illinois before arriving at their final destination of Evanston (north of Chicago) on Monday, Aug. 14.

The ride's goal is to offer a therapeutic experience for the veterans and first responders who take part, while fostering relationships and a sense of community.

"It helps them achieve hope, recovery and resilience, which is our mission," said Peter Bylsma, director of marketing communications for Project Hero.

One of the riders is wounded U.S. Army veteran Omar Duran, from Clearwater, Fla. 

"It's a mental struggle every day, so to be able to get out on my ride, ride my bike every day and to cover different grounds to see what America is about -- farm lands and things like that -- it's very exhilarating to know that you're not just cooped up inside a house. So to have the privilege to come out on these challenges has been very exciting," said Duran. 

Duran also enjoys the strong camaraderie that comes with the ride.

"I just met a guy [Monday] that I didn't even know lived a few miles down the road from me, so it's like, 'Man, that's a good connection.' So it actually helps you build, you know, so that you don't feel alone, and it gives you that community positiveness to know that there are other people of your situation," Duran said.

As for others affected by PTSD, Duran offered this advice.

"Be true to yourself. Love yourself. And love your family is the best thing I can tell you," he said. "If you're not true with yourself, it'll lead you in the wrong direction. And to always know that you have a cell phone that has a contact list. You know, it's just one button away."

Mayo Clinic will hold a send-off breakfast and celebration for the cyclists Tuesday morning before they depart for the rest of their journey. The event will take place at Peace Plaza at 8:30 a.m. Speakers include Mayor Ardell Brede and Mayo Clinic Medical Director of Public Affairs John Wald.

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