The East Hampton native talks about Soldier Ride, the rehabilitative event and fundraiser this Saturday, July 25, which will benefit the The Wounded Warrior Project and honor Sag Harbor’s own Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter.
This year’s local Solider Ride event features two bike routes – one 28-miles and another 65 miles – as well as two four mile walks, one in Amagansett and one in Sag Harbor. How has the response been so far?
It’s bigger than ever. We have more riders, more soldiers, the fact that we have 20 soldiers coming up from Walter Reed as well as 20 active-duty marines from Jordan’s unit, it’s pretty amazing. We will also have six Israeli soldiers riding with us.
Last year’s event was also in honor of Lance Corporal Haerter, but this year, going through Sag Harbor, does it feel any different?
Totally. We went to his memorial in Sag Harbor when they dedicated the monument and the bridge in his name and the fact that we are riding over the bridge and all his buddies are coming up is incredible. I feel like we can’t do anything for those that have fallen, like Jordan who died saving these guys, but if we can do everything we can to take care of these guys who do come back hurt, it is the best way we can memorialize them.
The fact is there are a lot of guys we can’t help. There were four killed in Afghanistan yesterday – it’s the bloodiest month in Afghanistan since the wars over there started. People get kind of used to hearing the numbers come in, but a lot of guys are still coming back and need our help. The need for the resources to take care of these guys is still very real.
Four years ago you started Solider Ride with a cross-country trip to benefit The Wounded Warrior Project, an organization dedicated to providing resources and support for wounded soldiers returning from overseas combat. As organizers, why was the decision made to host regional events rather than the cross-country cycling tours?
Well we found that it was a lot to ask a couple guys to go all the way cross country and we developed the kind of ties to a number of communities where it was no longer necessary to have someone ride through the middle of the desert for this cause. As it evolved from a fundraiser to a rehabilitative event, we wanted to start choosing places these wounded soldiers riding with us actually wanted to go. So we have seven or eight regional rides a year – Miami to Key West, the New York ride which finishes out here in Montauk, they do a Las Vegas ride and the high desert, they do a ride in Nashville, the coast of California, in Texas. In each year we come back to these communities they come out stronger and stronger for these soldiers. So the fact that we started this here in East Hampton and Montauk, it’s nice to see this has led the way on a national level.
Correct me if I am wrong, but did this not all start four years ago with a group of guys sitting at the bar of The Stephen Talkhouse talking about what they could do to help wounded soldiers?
It did. [Stephen Talkhouse owner] Peter [Honerkamp] through one of his many fundraisers for [retired Master Gunnery Sergeant] John Hernandez of Long Island, raised a lot of money, but also had a lot of expenses, so we were trying to think of a way to raise a lot of money without a lot of overhead. At first biking cross-country seemed like a farfetched idea that would be dismissed, but it wasn’t.
Do you go to these events held around the country?
I try and go to one or two every year. It keeps me involved and up to date. It has gotten hard. I wish I could go to more, but I get caught up in work and life and everything else, but I get copied on e-mails and people send me pictures so I stay in touch with a lot of these guys. There is a whole other group of guys now. All the guys I knew when I was really active in it, that I went to see and rode with, they have all moved on. Every time I go I see new faces, which is bittersweet because you know you are touching more people, but at the same time that means there are more people getting hurt.
While Soldier Ride has obviously had an impact on a number of lives, how has it changed yours?
I try not to sweat the small stuff. I feel humbled in that way. I get caught up in my daily life like everyone else, but then I get copied on an e-mail and it reminds me of what is important.
Are you going to complete the full 65-mile ride on Saturday?
I am going to try. It has been awhile.
Where did the idea come from to do the ride down Main Street, Sag Harbor with wounded soldiers and Jordan’s company?
Out here in the land of celebrities and all of that, I feel like these guys are the ultimate celebrities, especially considering what they have sacrificed – a lot of these guys are coming back having lost limbs, burned and their lives forever altered for our sake. It is a chance for us to show them our community loves them.
Jordan’s mother has enjoyed her involvement with Soldier Ride. How has it been having her on board?
We are happy and honored to have her a part of the team and if she continues to lead us the way she has the future for Soldier Ride here in East Hampton looks very bright.
Solider Ride will be held this Saturday, July 25. Registration for cyclists is $50 or $25 for those 21 years old and under. Registration for walkers costs $25. Participants can register from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. at the American Legion in Amagansett or from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at Long Wharf in Sag Harbor. The opening ceremonies will be held at the Amagansett American Legion at 9:45 a.m. For more information, visit empirestatechallenge.org