Emilio Rodriguez had spent 10 years in the U.S. Navy before he suffered an injury that caused him nerve damage and left him in a wheelchair.
Through a health and wellness program in California, he found out about The Wounded Warrior Project, a nonpartisan organization that looks to honor and empower injured veterans by providing programs and services to fit their needs.
With the Wounded Warrior Project, Rodriguez was invited to participate in a yearly cycling event called the Soldier Ride.
“An event like this brings us into something [that is] more outside of medical procedures and dealing with physicians and nurses,” said Rodriguez, 42. “We don’t have this opportunity of being able to come out and have a lot of sponsors and locations offering this. It’s a wonderful thing; I guess it’s also a way that people pay back.”
The Soldier Ride, was founded in 2004 to encourage newly injured soldiers to stay active by participating in a six-day event, where veterans are taken to different locations in specific cities around the United States to ride bicycles together. Within the tours, wounded soldiers get to socialize, exercise and see new places around the country.
Like Rodriguez, who resides in California, the members are transported to the locations where the yearly event happens. This year, the locations went along South Florida starting day one in Miami and with a final stop in Key West.
On Wednesday, Jan. 6 Forty veterans arrived at Jungle Island, located on 1111 Parrot Jungle Trail, for day one.
The Soldier Ride ran from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
After getting fitted into their bicycles, the soldiers watched a bird show and then took a ride through the island, where they saw and held various animals. Hand cycles were also available for participants such as Rodriguez.
“It’s really such a great icebreaker for the warriors where they get to know each other a bit. It frees everybody out, to do things they used to do, and it really it’s empowering,” said Nick Kraus, co-founder of the Soldier Ride. “I think it brings down barriers.”
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For more information, visit http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/