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Veterans and First Responders Connect Through Biking
Project Hero completed the Great Lakes Challenge with a pit stop at Saris Headquarters.
Project Hero is a groundbreaking national non-profit organization dedicated to helping Veterans and First Responders affected by PTSD, TBI, and injury achieve rehabilitation, recovery, and resilience in their daily lives. The organization also builds and provides adaptive bikes to physically-challenged and injured Veterans and First Responders and founded the Project Hero Institute for Mental Health to support clinical research programs in 2016.
Challenge rides started when a recreational therapist with the Veterans Administration thought cycling would be an effective alternative therapy for PTSD and TBI treatment as well as physical injury rehabilitation.
The organization's first Challenge event was held in 2008 with fourteen riders and no support staff. Project Hero Challenge events have become so popular that the organization now has a limit of 200 participants per event and a large support staff, attesting to the power of Project Hero and its programs. Brian Buttchen has worked for Saris for over 42 years and has been a supporter and advocate for Project Hero for well over a decade. After a brief hiatus from in-person rides due to COVID concerns, Project Hero made their triumphant return to the Saris headquarters on August 26, 2021 thanks to Brian’s efforts.
After a brief hiatus from in-person rides due to COVID concerns, Project Hero made their return to the Saris headquarters. The Great Lakes Challenge took off from Minneapolis, MN on August 22, finishing in Barrington, IL on August 28. This group knows how to brave the storm and they rode through rain, lightening, and thunder to arrive in Madison, WI for a Thursday night BBQ at Saris.
“We do these rides to give these veterans epic things to accomplish again. Doing rides with the Project Hero family helps restore that unit identity that they lost when they were wounded or retired, or however their service ended,” ride director Joseph Coddington said. “It gives them a chance to feel that again.”
Pandemics are hard on everyone but perhaps no one is harder hit than people who rely on their community for rehabilitation. Throughout the last year Todd Setter, Director of Project Hero, had to get creative; we set him up with Saris H3 Smart Trainers, they downloaded the Rouvy app, and their virtual cycling community was born. Rouvy allowed them to continue riding together in a realistic looking virtual environment, without the triggers other more animated riding apps can prompt.
At the event, Veteran Pat Kelly spoke about how the H3 Smart Trainer and the virtual riding community saved his life. After being on a plethora of prescription medications; he credits the smart trainer and riding virtually with Project Hero for helping him break his habit. It was an emotional moment and the support amongst these riders was palpable. Their heroic community of support, and their indoor training regimen got them through the pandemic. After an arduous and rewarding week, Pat’s dog was waiting for him when he returned.
The night ended with factory tours led by Saris employees. On Friday morning, Project Hero riders set off for Lake Geneva, their path was lined by first responder and retired veteran supporters. Saris employee Brian Buttchen was honored and humbled to join them for the ride after raising $5,000 which Saris matched.
“Riding with this group is far more than just a ride. It’s a close group that needs one another to cope, their bond is amazing,” Buttchen said, “To ride with these people is not a given, it’s a blessing. Every time someone tells me they can’t do something, I picture these guys and I think, you can if you want to.”
We can’t wait to host them again next year. Please support this worthy cause any way you can.
Thank you to retired Plant Manager, Mike Root, for the homemade BBQ. It is always a treat to have Saris alumni back. Thank you also to Fitchburg Hy-vee and Little John's for your food and beverage donations.
For information on Project Hero, click here.