AVENTURA, Fla. – Hours after Iran’s missile strike on two Iraqi bases known to house U.S. troops, Michele Spencer was in Aventura to support military veterans who are still dealing with the cost of war.
Spencer, of Atlanta, was among the supporters of a group of wounded military personnel that is preparing for a series of bicycle rides this week in South Florida.
The group with The Wounded Warrior Project, a Jacksonville-based nonprofit organization founded in 2003, aims to raise awareness for veterans who were injured during their military service after the Sept. 11 attacks.
“We’ve met people from Virginia, Puerto Rico, so it’s a happy family gathering,” Spencer said.
Nick Kraus, the president of the nonpartisan organization, said he annual Soldier Ride events have been going on since 2004 to help injured veterans overcome physical, mental and emotional wounds through adaptive exercise.
The Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last year that about 41 percent of active veterans who served in Afghanistan, Iraq and other war zones after the Sept. 11 attacks have disability ratings from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The Soldier Ride is “a great opportunity to get folks out of their homes, hospital and be apart of this rehabilitating project,” Kraus said, adding that “everyone signed up to protect this country and that says it all. They paid a hefty price. We’re here to help them get better.”
On Wednesday, the group met at the Courtyard by Marriott Miami Aventura Mall, 2825 NE 191st St., to get fitted for their helmets and the bicycles that were modified to fit the needs of each rider. The United Services Automobile Association co-sponsors the ride.
Kraus said the group will be riding on Thursday in Miami-Dade County and on Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Monroe County.
The first ride begins at 9:30 a.m., on Thursday at Finnegan’s on the Ocean, 1344 Ocean Dr., in South Beach, and it ends at the Marlins Park, 501 Marlins Way, in Little Havana.
On Friday, the riders will travel about 17 miles starting at 8:30 a.m. at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Upper Keys headquarters at 102255 Overseas Hwy., in Key Largo. They plan to stop for water at the Coral Shores High School, 89901 Old Hwy., in Tavernier, and end the ride at the Theater of the Sea, 84721 Overseas Hwy., in Islamorada.
The weekend ride is in Key West. On Saturday, the ride begins at 10:30 a.m. at the Naval Air Station Key West’s Boca Chica Field, and it ends at the Bayview Park, 1320 Truman Ave. On Sunday, the ride begins at 12: 45 p.m. at Bayview Park and it ends at the Truman Little White House, 111 Front St.
This year the riders will also visit dozens of cities, including New York, Chicago, San Diego; Portland, Pittsburgh and Washington, DC, where the president will welcome them to the White House.