Anthony Cerezo of Quakertown is a combat veteran who fought in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. When he came back home, like many soldiers with physical and mental wounds, he had a hard time blending back into civilian life. But then he heard about the Wounded Warrior Project from his battle brothers and felt like he was thrown a lifeline.
"I couldn't find myself and I couldn't reach out to others. The Wounded Warrior Project helped me get back my comrades," he told Philly.com after finishing the project's Soldier Ride here in Philadelphia. "Where doctors and medicine couldn't heal, my brothers could. Being together, the bonding did miracles for me."
More than 50 injured service members were in the Philadelphia area Thursday, August 13 through Saturday, August 15 for the Soldier Ride, which is a long weekend of bike riding and other physical health and wellness activities meant to use cycling and the bond of service to help them overcome a myriad of injuries including missing limbs, chronic pain and invisible wounds of war like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Before the ride, on Thursday at the Renaissance Philadelphia Airport Hotel, each veteran and service member was fit with adaptive equipment to meet their specific needs, whether it was a recumbent, hand-cycle, trike or road bike. On Friday morning, they rode 12 miles beginning and ending at the Lincoln Financial Field with a turnaround at the art museum steps, and later in the afternoon they enjoyed a private tour of the Lincoln Financial Field, including a stretch out with Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow and all of the Philadelphia Eagles. Then on Saturday, they cycled 28 more miles at Fort Mott State Park in Pennsville, NJ. By the end of the weekend, they had biked over 40 miles as a team.
Dan Schnock, Soldier Ride director, offered more details on the weekend's events: "Besides the bike ride, we also introduce them to other physical activities like yoga, dynamic stretching, cross-fit, foam rolling. Anything to get them active again and do it in a social setting."
He explained that they also set behavioral goals focused on healthy living like losing weight, and eating better.
"The Soldier Ride gives warriors a chance to build social bonds. A lot of sisters and brothers suffer from silent illnesses like post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury," he added.
Before signing up for the Soldier Ride, Cerezo had attended different Wounded Warrior Project Health & Wellness Expos and The Culinary Institute of America Boot Camp. He has lost over 120 lbs since starting.
Noah Grubb of Tannersville was also on the ride. He retired from the army in 2010 and this was his first event with the Wounded Warrior Project and he really enjoyed it.
"The instant connection with those who have been through the same experiences is great," he explained.
The ride was even extra meaningful to him because he just had a knee replaced six months before the ride.
The mission of Wounded Warrior Project is to honor and empower injured service members and veterans. Soldier Ride is a part of the physical health & wellness program which offers peer support, adaptive sports, recreational activities as well as nutrition and wellness services to help reduce stress, combat depression and promote a healthy and active lifestyle.