COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Seven bicyclists are traveling across the country to raise funds to help veterans and military families.
The riders will have traveled more than 3,000 miles from Malibu on June 4 to their final destination Amelia Island, Fla. on July 8. The team stopped by the National Infantry Museum in Columbus as one of their designated stop areas.
Team leader and organizer Tracy Draper spent two years planning this journey. She said the event is not an annual one, but Draper always wanted to cycle across the country while doing something positive for veterans.
"A quote in Washington Post stated back in 2012 that an average of 22 service members commit suicide every day," Draper said. "That's too many. We can do something about this. We need to give these men and women hope. That's why The Ride Across USA team is supporting Hope for the Warriors. It provides care, education and everything you can think of for the veterans. The organization also has the most financial transparency. You can go see their financial records at any time, so you know that your money is being used for the right cause."
Draper said her father served as a Special Forces infantry man at Fort Benning for years. She was born in Germany, but she grew up in Columbus and considers the city her home.
"My son also is at the Air Force Academy right now," Draper explained. "My husband was in the Navy and my brother was also in the Army. So it was very natural for me to care about our veterans."
Felipe Chuab is stationed in Fort Benning. He lives in Phenix City but came out to ride about 20 miles with the Ride Across USA team to show his support.
"I found that riding bicycle has helped me through my PTSD, and I was able to get out there and feel more normal," Chuab said. "I wanted to show my support for organizations like the Ride Across USA because groups like this has helped change my life around. I found healing from cycling."
Draper says the team slept in hotels, churches, community centers, museums and individual homes during their travel. Draper and six other bicyclists came from Orlando and they met through a cycling community. Draper said the team cycled about 100 miles a day throughout their journey for six to eight hours.
"The toughest part of this was the emotional and mental struggle," Draper said. "You hear voices in your head saying 'why are you doing this, can you really do this?' Or feeling discouraged because of how high some mountains were. But we are only two days away from reaching Amelia Island, and now I'm kind of overwhelmed that this is coming to an end. We planned so much; it was two years in the making. I know we are making a difference in people's lives and that is huge."
Hope for the Warriors has 11 different programs to help veterans, especially the post 9/11 service members and their families. The organization has earned a Four-Star Rating from Charity Navigator for three years in a row.
So far, the Ride Across USA team has collected about 15,000 dollars. The team's goal was to raise 30,000 dollars to donate to Hope for the Warriors by the end of their journey.