On July 16th, the iconic Wounded Warrior Project’s Soldier Ride is returning to the place where it got its start—the Hamptons—and the public is invited. Anyone can come out and participate in a day of camaraderie and bicycling, to support the wounded veterans who have sacrificed so much for this nation.
In preparation for the event, we got in touch with Nick Kraus, 1/3 of the ride’s founding members from the East End, to provide some insight on the event’s origins, what the ride is really all about, and more.
Let’s start from the beginning. How did the Soldier Ride come about, and how many years has it been taking place? Does it go down in multiple locations?
Soldier Ride® was an idea first put forward in 2003 by Chris Carney, a bartender at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett. We had been doing some concerts there, and other locations, to support wounded warriors returning home to Long Island. The most recent concert at the time wasn’t selling as well as we hoped, so Chris suggested an alternative—he would ride his bicycle across the country. During a few drinks, we talked it over, and it seemed like a good idea. At the next concert, we set up a card table to raise funds for the ride, and we took in over $10,000. Chris knew he had to move ahead with the ride because the support was clearly there.
One big miscalculation we made was that it wasn’t 3000 miles from NY to California, due to the back roads you need to take on a bike. It ended up being over 4000 miles! Chris left Montauk Point in the spring of 2004 and headed for San Diego. Along the way, two wounded veterans, with one leg between them, decided to join up with Chris. Five things happened that day: (1) We got lots of outpouring of support from the American public. (2) We got lots of news media coverage. (3) Ryan Kelly and Heath Calhoun, the warriors who rode with us, realized they could still do something like riding a bike despite their injuries. (4) Other wounded veterans were inspired by watching what these other warriors had accomplished. (5) Heath and Ryan suggested that they ride with us the next year from LA to Montauk.
We had no plans to do this, but how could we say no? In 2005, Chris, Ryan, and Heath made their way across the country joined by dozens of other wounded warriors. It was then that we realized the obvious: this thing called Soldier Ride, is being run by a bartender from Long Island. Why not let this great rehabilitative tool be used by wounded veterans to get out of the hospitals and do something they used to do, if only in a different way?
This is now the 13th year, and we do over 30 rides a year in different cities across the country as well as in the UK, France, Germany, and Israel. Other coalition forces are now doing their versions of Soldier Ride around the world.
Is the ride competitive, or can participants sign up and just cruise for a good cause?
Soldier Ride is not competitive; it’s a ride, not a race. The only competitive aspect is that you challenge yourself to do the best you can. We feel that if a warrior can start a Soldier Ride, it’s as good as finishing one- they have taken the opportunity to get back out there!
For members of local communities, we urge everybody to ride with the dozens of warriors in East Hampton on July 16th or Babylon on the 15th. It’s a great way to show support and get some exercise while doing so. Those interested can visit soldierride.org/thehamptons or soldierride.org/babylon to sign up.
What’s been the most amazing moment for you’ve witnessed at the ride?
The most amazing thing I’ve seen on a Soldier Ride is watching a warrior who had doubts about his abilities, find the will to get on that bike. It’s amazing to see our adaptive team create ways for warriors to get out there and ride, no matter their injury. I’ve watched them invent techniques that have never been done before to make it happen. For example, using your seat as a brake when you don’t have use of your hands.
Most importantly is the effect that Soldier Ride has on a warrior that you can see over the course of the adventure. Making friends for life, and the spirit of unity and purpose that they rediscover. Seeing they can do something they didn’t think they could anymore. Watching the community come out to thank them. Soldier Ride was only supposed to last two months back in 2004, and here we are in 2016 – it still excites me that I get to be part of this.
Also, semi-related to the previous question—has anyone ever attempted/completed the ride on a tricycle or a different, unique form of cycle?
Warriors and the public will ride all sorts of different bikes. There are trikes for those with balance or back issues, hand cycles for those who can’t use their legs, and two person bikes for those with vision issues. Of course, some of our community riders just like to be different or exercise in a different way, and come out with random modes of transport. It’s never boring!
Describe the ride via the name of a band that was relevant from the 70s-90s.
I feel like the band I most identify with for Soldier Ride would be The Rolling Stones. We got our start as a badass and unconventional little operation out of a rock and roll bar. I had an old CJ7 with no top, and if it rained, we got wet. Now, we’re an aged, but a fine-running machine, with a huge following. And now I have a daughter and drive a station wagon. Things change!
I’m considering signing up our Managing Director, Bronson Lamb, for this year’s ride. He’s been crushing SoulCycle lately, and I think its time he test his abilities on the open road. Where can I sign him up, and is there anything else I should know?
I think he would love Soldier Ride. What it does for warriors emotionally, physically, and mentally is amazing. I know Bronson is a pretty popular guy, so I strongly suggest he register his team to come out and ride with us on July 16th in East Hampton. The more support we can show our wounded warriors the better!
For more info, head over to the Soldier Ride Hampton’s website. If you’re thinking about getting in on it, there’s a special promo code for Whalebone readers: enter WHALEBONE for a $5 discount on registration. Thanks Nick!