More than 120 injured veterans cycled through Central Texas on Thursday as a part of the eighth annual UnitedHeathcare Ride 2 Recovery Texas Challenge.

Injured veterans and supporters began their journey in Houston on Monday as part of a six-day, 425-mile bicycle ride that will conclude Saturday in Fort Worth. Riders reached Waco on Thursday afternoon after starting from Fort Hood in the morning. They have made stops in Tomball, College Station, Georgetown and Fort Hood.

“Riding in Central Texas is kind of like home to me, but I never ride up this far,” said Jonathan Dade, a retired U.S. Navy veteran and Georgetown resident. “I hadn’t cycled since high school. But in 2012, I had been out of the military for about three years, and a friend saw that I was really struggling with that transition.”

Dade’s friend suggested a recovery ride in Washington, D.C., similar to the Central Texas ride. Dade said he became hooked on his new hobby, especially when he saw the support offered to other struggling veterans — a vision he saw again riding into the Doris Miller Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Waco.

“Support is really needed,” he said. “I think other veterans need to know that they need to find something and resources that can truly help them.”

The group will leave Waco and travel to Cleburne on Friday before finishing in Fort Worth on Saturday. The ride and sponsors offer physical and psychological rehabilitation programs for injured veterans, including indoor spinning training at military installations and the multiday, long-distance rides.

Ride 2 Recovery spokeswoman Sheri Goldberg said the cycling challenge enables veterans with a variety of disabilities, whether psychological or physical, to connect to regional veteran services.

“These veterans need the support, and we want everyone to see the great things this program accomplishes,” Goldberg said. “It restores hope and purpose, gives these folks a chance of normalcy and lots of local support from the community.”

Support from the regional community was evident for retired U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Carlos Vera, of San Jose, California. After serving from 1991 to 1997 and participating in Operation Restore Hope in Somalia, Vera, who suffers from hearing loss and other injuries from his service, found support in Ride 2 Recovery in 2013. He traveled to Texas this year for his first Texas Ride 2 Recovery trek.

“I wanted to try something different and somewhere new. This has been more than I could have ever expected,” Vera said, standing next to his service dog, Ruthie, and his wife, Christina Vera.

“For myself, this means a lot. When we came back from Somalia, we didn’t have a lot of services or support like troops have now. I look at the Vietnam vets as paving the way for us, then we are paving the way for these vets and hopefully they will pave the way for future vets. Rides and resources like this are making it happen.”

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