Hundreds of Oceano Elementary School students lined up along Highway 1 on Thursday to cheer on more than 200 injured veterans participating in the annual Ride 2 Recovery California Challenge.
The seven-day, 465-mile bicycle ride along the coast from the San Francisco Bay Area to Los Angeles came through San Luis Obispo County this week.
Each year, some Oceano Elementary students write cards to veterans and create signs with the veterans’ names to hold up as the riders swing through town.
About 10 members of the school’s Oceano Bike Posse also joined the veterans for several miles of the ride.
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Ride 2 Recovery provides physical and psychological rehabilitation programs for injured veterans. The program features cycling as its core activity and helps veterans heal through the challenge of cycling long distances using hand cycles, recumbent bikes, tandems and traditional road bikes, according to a news release.
On Tuesday, the cyclists rode from Carmel to San Simeon, a 92-mile journey along scenic Highway 1. On Wednesday, the route took them from Cambria to Pismo Beach.
Bob Rollins, 48, of Paso Robles got involved in the ride five years ago. He said the Cambria-to-Pismo leg is his favorite, and he enjoys “the camaraderie of being with everyone else and being able to help everyone else.”
“I rode with a guy who got his prosthetic leg in May, got his bike two weeks ago, and he’s out there riding today,” he said. “It takes a lot of courage.”
Veterans come from all over the country to take part in the event, one of six held each year. Three of them, including the Central Coast ride, are held along the same sections of road each year. In each of the events, the veterans ride for free, with sponsors paying for hotel stays, jerseys and other expenses.
Participants have faced a variety of war wounds, some external and others harder to see.
“Physical disabilities, amputees, traumatic brain injuries: A lot are riding recumbent bikes, lower to the ground,” said rider assistant Juan Hernandez. “It helps them feel like they’ve accomplished something with their disabilities.”
Air Force veteran Jamie Crouse of Groveland, near Yosemite National Park, was riding for the first time, after recovering from a series of seven back surgeries.
“I feel like it’s both emotional and physical,” he said of the experience. “It’s being a part of something that’s bigger than yourself, and watching these ladies and gentlemen push themselves: When they think they’ve had enough, someone comes up and puts a hand on their shoulder and encourages them.”
For more information on Ride 2 Recovery, go to https://ride2recovery.com/.