Wounded veterans will bicycle throughout the Chicago area starting on Thursday as part of the Wounded Warrior Project's 3-day Soldier Ride.
The event helps service members overcome physical, mental and emotional wounds
On Wednesday, Devon Wikstrom, of Austin, Texas, and Derick Veintidos, of Leesville, Louisiana -- two veterans who served together in Iraq -- got their bikes fitted in Rosemont ahead the ride.
FULL SOLDIER RIDE ITINERARY
***Please note - the ride has been canceled Thursday due to rain. Participants are still scheduled to visit Brookfield Zoo.
For them, it's more than just a bike ride. It's a chance for them to recover from anxiety and PTSD. They both served in Iraq as military police officers. For years, their words have been locked inside.
"I put everything military behind me just kind of like I didn't want people to know I was in the military," Wikstrom said.
"You feel locked in or you feel you can't find nobody to talk to, but thankfully the nice folks at Wounded Warrior Project they have all kinds of resources to help guys like me," Veintidos said.
This year, Chicago's ride will help more than 45 wounded warriors. It's about them, but it's also about the public supporting service members along the route.
"It's always fantastic because the riders get empowered, they get excited hat the community is out and supporting them, it renews their faith that the service to their country hasn't been in vein," said Will Schiff, Soldier Ride manager.
Riding through the Chicago area for three days helps the wounded heal.
"Being out and about in the open air on a nice day and being around other veterans just like myself really helps out with the healing process," Veintidos said.
And it provides clarity.
"It gives you time to reflect on your thoughts, stuff that you're going through and when you're done, it's not as bad," Wikstrom said.
The experience helps strengthen the bonds among veterans.
"It's all a new experience, but it is comforting knowing that you're surrounded by other veterans," Wikstrom said.
"If I could walk away with a smile and a sense of my purpose again, I would feel much, much accomplished," Veintidos said.
The ride starts 9:30 a.m. Thursday. The wounded warriors will make their way from the Thatcher Woods Pavilion to the Brookfield Zoo. Friday's ride will be in the northwest suburbs --- Rosemont, Des Plaines, Park Ridge and end at Bandit Stadium. Saturday's ride starts in Chicago and heads up the lakefront through Evanston, Wilmette, Winnetka and Highland Park.
The public is encouraged to greet veterans along the route, thanking them for their service.
Wounded Warrior Project's Soldier Ride kicks off Thursday in western suburbs