When retired U.S. Army signal support specialist Douglas Hebbard rode into the Doris Miller Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Waco on Thursday, he felt comfort atop his bicycle.
“I was in the army for six and a half years during Desert Storm on a tank battalion with the 1st Infantry Division that spearheaded the attack into Iraq, so that is where my PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) comes from,” Hebbard said. “I lost a lot of close people but I picked up cycling right before I was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2003, so cycling has helped me in so many ways.”
Hebbard, of Sacramento, California, joined almost 100 wounded veterans and their supporters for the ninth annual UnitedHealthcare Ride 2 Recovery Texas Challenge, benefiting Project Hero. The weeklong, noncompetitive, therapeutic bike tour started in San Antonio and visited San Marcos, Georgetown, Killeen and Fort Hood before taking a ceremonial stop in Waco.
“For us, what is special this year is the repeat enthusiasm and support that we have gotten from all of the Texas communities,” Project Hero spokesman Peter Bylsma said. “This is one of our highlight days, and everyone is so excited.”
Bicyclists leave from Waco on Friday morning and head to the Hearne-College Station area before finishing the tour in Houston on Saturday. The ride totals almost 500 miles. Project Hero cycling challenges offer veterans with a variety of disabilities, whether psychological or physical, to connect to veteran services. It also aims to increase awareness of PTSD.
“I just recently retired with Fort Hood’s Warrior Transition Brigade and I wanted to try to support the wounded veterans, so I thought I would lead by example,” said retired Command Sgt. Maj. Jeff Moser, of Fort Hood. “I hadn’t been on a bike in 30-plus years so I decided to pick up a bicycle three days before the 2015 Texas Challenge.”
Both Moser and Hebbard said they suffer from PTSD and have found support through Ride 2 Recovery. Bicyclists rode through historic sites, civic centers and local attractions with traditional bicycles, hand bikes, recumbent bikes and custom tandems.
New this year, Project Hero partnered with Texas A&M and supplied about 35 veterans with a biometric monitoring device. The devices records heart rate during certain activities in hopes of helping scientists create algorithms to anticipate and mitigate PTSD episodes.
“If we can have something, once it is all developed, that can warn me that I might have an anxiety, panic or PTSD attack, I think that will be awesome,” Moser said. “With our heart rate and our biometrics, once this is fully developed, the downloaded data will help program these watches to help us deal with our PTSD in a preventative way.”
Regardless of personal goals for each challenge, bicyclists waved and thanked supporters as they journeyed toward downtown Waco after a brief ceremony at the Waco VA. Moser said the 500-mile journey is always worth effort.
“This is the happiest I am and this is the safest I ever feel,” he said. “Everyone out here, we are all in the same boat. Everyone has my back, and that is what the ride is all about.”