Soldier Ride Tampa (Florida) was incredible. I had a lot of anxiety about signing up for this program but thanks to some coaxing from some female veteran friends I got up the courage to give it a try. Initially I had planned to go to Soldier Ride with a female veteran friend from every branch of service but life happens so the Air Force, Marines, and Navy had to push forward without our fellow comrades. In addition to meeting up with some old friends from other physical health and wellness events we attended, we met new friends from every branch of service. I’m so glad that I pushed through the fears and did Soldier Ride. It was an experience that helped me grow, helped me get more fit, and inspired me to continue cycling because I enjoyed it that much. And come to find out my husband loves cycling too so we will have a new sport to enjoy together. We already went on our first ten mile bike ride together since I got home from Florida.
Soldier Ride was so much more then riding a bike with a group of veterans. As a matter of fact there were veterans, active duty, reserves, and National Guard present at this event and I learned that Wounded Warrior Project assists with their recovery process too. It made me so happy to see that their military leadership was supportive of them taking care of themselves while serving. It’s the best medicine to prevent a condition from getting worse. On the first day of riding we rode roughly twenty miles in preparation for the planned Soldier Ride Tampa the next day. Soldier Ride Tampa was about fifteen miles. I hadn’t ridden five miles let alone thirty-five miles in years. I was very proud of my accomplishments and those of my fellow comrades. We all appeared to enjoy the sport of cycling and really enjoyed cycling together as a team. It was fun and it was another form of camaraderie.
In addition to the actual bicycle rides, we were also introduced to a number of activities that I had never tried before or hadn’t done in a very long time because of the impacts of Post Traumatic Stress. On the first day after we got fitted for our bikes, I went for a swim at the hotel. It felt so good to use swimming as a way to work off the anxiety that erupts in new social settings. While there we met an amazing man who was a retired Lt. Colonel who served in the Army for twenty-six years. He too was using the pool to heal his body. We had some great conversation. I’d go to war with this guy any day. Later that night, they took us to a driving range where we would eat our dinner as well. I had never even used a golf club before and didn’t do very well but none of us cared because this too was fun. There’s just something about whacking a golf ball as hard as you can and it’s great practice for learning the game of golf which was something I always had on my bucket list.
After our first bike ride later that night they took us to a hockey game. Had I not been with a group of people, it would have been stimulus overload at the hockey game. But being with the group in our own little area where we both ate and watched the game made the experience manageable. I remember feeling so good that I had reached a point in my recovery where I could enjoy the here and now and take in all the entertainment without it making me feel like I was crumbling. The loudness alone sometimes would send me into a tailspin. I realized at this game that I had come a long way in my recovery and may just be ready for the crowds at professional games. I always loved hockey games and this game reminded me why. I look forward to going to more hockey games in the future, both my friend’s kid’s games and professional games. Hockey is by far one of my most favorite sports to watch and has been since my college days at the University of Alaska.
After Soldier Ride Tampa on Saturday the staff took us to learn how to sail at the St. Petersburg Sailing Center. We split up in groups of five and set off to sail in the Tampa Bay. This was a first for me. I had never been sailing. It was a great experience and I am so glad that I was introduced to this sport/hobby because now I have the confidence to try it again at a couple’s veteran retreat program I just learned about. I was afraid that I might get seasick after getting seasick on a kayak in the Puget Sound on an Outward Bound adventure for military and veterans. But it was nothing some dramamine couldn’t take care of and I proved that on this sailing trip. I love being out on the water. I look forward to going sailing again and I definitely want to kayak and paddleboard this summer as well. We have so many bodies of water to explore in our backyard.
The entire Soldier Ride experience was eye opening. I learned more about the programs that Wounded Warrior Project offers in addition to trying some things I hadn’t done in years or had never tried before. I met more kind, empathic, understanding people who wanted the same joy and happiness I want. I can see myself going to a driving range in the future and even trying golf. I see myself going to more hockey games in the future including the professional ones with big crowds. I got this. I already made plans to go sailing and hope to spend more time on the water this summer. And I am going to buy a new bike from Trek with the 25% discount they offer WWP Alumni who participate in Soldier Ride. I was especially inspired to cycle because I felt a mental clarity that I hadn’t felt in awhile. I realized that not only is this sport good for my physical health but will be good for my mental health as well. Participation in these activities assists with Post Traumatic Growth.