They’re back and they need support as only the people of the Florida Keys can provide.

After a year’s hiatus due to COVID, Wounded Warrior Project’s Soldier Ride returns to the island chain this weekend, Friday and Saturday, Jan. 7 and 8.

Forty-one wounded military warriors will ride through the Upper, Middle and Lower Keys for three legs of a ride. Some ride traditional bikes, while others use adaptive bikes, such as hand-powered cycles, recumbent bikes, tricycles and hybrid bikes, to accommodate various injuries endured in combat. 

All Wounded Warrior Project events, including the Soldier Rides, are entirely free for the warriors.

“Here in the Florida Keys, we come out to cheer the riders on like nowhere else. It’s so inspiring to see these men and women reclaim their confidence and strength, both mental and physical,” said Cathy Crane, director of Monroe County Veterans Affairs, who organizes the Soldier Ride in the Florida Keys. “These men and women have all been wounded in conflict. Some of their injuries are visible and others are invisible, when we’re talking about traumatic brain injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder and other injuries.”

Crane encourages all Keys residents, visitors and schoolchildren to line U.S. 1 when the ride is coming through their section of the Keys.

“We wave flags, wear red, white and blue and just give them moral support that means the world to them as they ride 10 to 17 miles in each leg,” Crane said. “And they love seeing their supporters. They’ll reach out and high-five people as they’re passing by. It’s an amazing feeling for everyone involved.”

Plantation Key School students show their support for members of the Wounded Warrior Project’s 2020 Soldier Ride. DOUG FINGER/Keys Weekly

And so many groups and organizations are eager to be involved with the event in the Keys, Crane said.

“This is the 10th year that Key West’s Military Affairs Committee, the City of Key West and Monroe County have all worked together on the Soldier Ride,” Crane said. “It’s the 16th year that Soldier Ride is visiting the Keys.”

Government, law enforcement, veterans groups, fire and rescue services, civilians, schools and a host of other groups and individuals all volunteer to make the ride comfortable, memorable and healing for its participants.

“Warriors never ride alone; they move forward together, as a unit, just as they did during their military service,” states the Wounded Warrior Project Soldier Ride website. “Soldier Ride empowers warriors to find solace, healing, and strength through movement. The experience opens doors to new opportunities and knowledge and helps to unleash their untapped potential. We only ride as fast as the slowest rider, so everyone can benefit.”

So, when and where will the warriors ride in the Florida Keys? 

Friday, Jan. 7:

8:30 a.m.: The ride starts at Key Largo VFW Post 10211 with a 9:30 a.m. water stop at Coral Shores High School in Tavernier, ending around 10:30 a.m. at Postcard Inn Beach Resort & Marina in Islamorada.

11:45 a.m.:  Meet and greet at Marathon Fire Rescue Station 14.

1 p.m.: The warriors head south from the fire station over the Seven Mile Bridge, ending at Veterans Memorial Park on the south end of the bridge around 2 p.m.

Saturday, Jan 8

9:30 a.m.: The ride departs the DoubleTree Grand Key Resort in Key West and heads to the U.S. Naval Air Station Key West at Boca Chica Key, then loops back to Bayview Park in Key West. (Roadside supporters along U.S. 1 and at the Triangle in Key West have two opportunities to see the riders on their way to and from Boca Chica.)

Noon: Welcome ceremony at Bayview Park in Key West.

12:45 p.m.: Community Ride from Bayview Park until 2 p.m. The public is invited to ride with the warriors to historic Key West military sites. Patriotic bike decorations are encouraged. Suggested donation is $20.

 

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Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.