Under the early-morning Utah sun on Saturday, hundreds of bicyclists were to slip on their helmets and head out on routes of 20, 50, or 100 miles amid backdrops of red mountains and yellow desert.
They are also taking on the challenge of their disabilities. Participants of the Honor Ride Park City are raising awareness and money for Ride 2 Recovery — which the longer Challenge Rides are part of — and are veterans who have been wounded in combat.
“Ride 2 Recovery is a national organization," said rider Dean Zenoni. "They would bring guys out from Wounded Warrior units, or medical units like [Walter Reed National Medical Center]. Some guys have never ridden a bike before, so they get fitted” for a proper bike that fits their handicap.
Zenoni was injured while serving with the U.S. Marine Corps in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2008, and started riding during his recovery in 2009. He said the opportunity to participate in these rides is a great form of exercise for veterans who otherwise may not have the chance.
Zenoni described one instance of a fellow soldier who was blinded in one eye and had inner-ear damage from an attack. He wasn’t able to ride an upright bike due to his injuries. “We rode this past March, we did a Challenge Ride from New Orleans to Tallahassee, Fla.," Zenoni said. "It’s about 400 miles. He rode a tandem bike with his wife, and he’s been into it ever since.”
If a veteran is an amputee or has a spinal cord injury, a bike is specially designed for them so they can participate. The recovery program takes warriors and trains them in bike fitting and training, so veterans would have bikes available to ride on a daily basis.
Zenoni headed out Friday morning and afternoon to set up markers along the bike trail.
“In the local Salt Lake City Program, I have eight guys I work with,” he said. It’s not the first time Zenoni has helped out; he’s been involved since the start of the program in Salt Lake.
Across the country on the East Coast, Honor Ride New Hampshire was also taking place on July 27. Other Challenge Rides include areas like the Great Lakes, Boston and Italy, and one in memory of Sept. 11.
Once at the starting line, the rides are free to wounded veterans. The only personal cost accrued is getting there, and even that is sometimes negated by fundraising. If veterans don’t have a bike, one is provided for them at the race. The general public is allowed to join in on the bike rides, but there is a cost.
Zenoni’s first ride was between San Francisco and Los Angeles. He said they would peddle on average 50 to 60 miles a day, once finishing 90 miles. The ride took four months.
This weekend, Zenoni — who has had some problems with his injuries lately — will be doing the 20-mile course. He said he’ll be riding with his two buddies, one who had an injury to his T-7 disk and another who recently had his left leg amputated at the knee.
“The hardest part for me with the injury, is that I was super fit (beforehand). Most military guys are pretty fit, and then you get an injury. I didn’t put on a lot of weight, but some guys do. You know, you can’t do what you are used to doing; you sit around and heal,” Zenoni said.
Once he was cleared by his doctor to start exercising after the initial injury, Zenoni took to bicycling. There were two aspects that he liked about the new sport: the physical side and the social component.
Bike designers can adapt a bike around a specific injury, making the sport available to almost anyone. Zenoni said he’s ridden with soldiers who are blind and riding in tandem with another person, pedaling in the back. Getting fit helps their bodies heal, Zenoni said, and riding together gives everyone the opportunity to talk.
And as most of the planning and organizing for the honor rides are done on Facebook, it’s easy to stay in contact with new friends.
“It was something new for me. I was never into riding. This gave me the opportunity to focus on part of my body that still works. It shifts my old likes to discover new likes.”