A Conversation With Chris Carney
By Lindsay Andarakis
While working as a bartender at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett, Chris Carney co-founded Soldier Ride over a decade ago, biking across the country to raise funds for wounded veterans. Today, he reflects on what it means to be a wounded warrior, and how the community can support them, with Soldier Ride scheduled for Saturday, July 22.
In your own words, what is Soldier Ride?
Soldier Ride is kind of like a moving tribute to our wounded warriors. It started off as a fundraising event and it morphed into a rehabilitative event. When you get out there and you actually see and have the opportunity to ride next to warriors that are recovering from life altering injuries, it affects you. It actually allows you to give back in a way that I think is unique. Most people don’t have an opportunity to actually take part in the rehabilitation or the healing process of members they’re trying to support…you can get out there and see what they’re going through, watch them struggle, and you can watch them overcome.
How has it been to watch Soldier Ride grow from a single man journey across the country to a global event?
It originally started back in 2004 and we did it as a fundraising event and a couple of wounded soldiers decided that they wanted to support us…now they have over a dozen Soldier Rides all over the country every year.
You also involve riders overseas?
Yeah. It’s neat to get the guys out on the road together because they’re going through the same thing and any camaraderie you see, it’s awesome.”
What can fitness teach people (both veterans and non-veterans) about life, themselves, goals and healing?
Well the gift of perspective you have when you take part in Soldier Ride is amazing, and that’s something you’ll take with you for the rest of your life. I mean, when you watch someone with no legs bike 30 miles, it makes it hard for you to say that your legs hurt, you know, or that you can’t do something. It makes you really not sweat the small stuff. That gift of perspective is a powerful thing because you can analyze that to whatever it is you’re doing; whether it’s trying to run a local 5K or trying to bike across America, when you watch those do it who are overcoming such catastrophic injuries, it makes your own situation seem not quite so dark.
What do you think is important for people to know about wounded veterans?
That they’re out there, and that you can actually help them. I used to get tired of hearing the phrase ‘thoughts and prayers’ because it means well, and I’m happy that people are thinking kindly of them, but they’re actually out there and people can do more than thoughts and prayers if they want…I used to think that they were all just military guys or officers, but they come from all walks of life…Every part of our country has been affected by the recent hostilities and I don’t think you can find a community across the country that hasn’t been touched in one way or another…If you really want to do more than thoughts and prayers, you can reach out and do it, and it will make you feel great.
With so many bike enthusiasts out East, I think it’s great to be able to “ride and help heal.” How do you encourage first timers to get involved with Soldier Ride?
Soldier Ride is a unique cycling experience…I’ve got friends who do Soldier Ride every year, and it’s the only time of year they get on a bike. So if you think you can’t do it, or you haven’t ridden 30 miles before, it sounds so exhausting, you can. The first half of the ride, everyone rides behind the soldiers, at a more contained pace. You get a feel for what they’re going through. Every bump in the road, you’re thinking about them, you’re watching the guys on the hand cycles, pedaling with their arms. We get to Sag Harbor, we have a short little ceremony and we encourage everyone to kind of take off and ride back to Amagansett at their own pace…you see everyone across the generational spectrum out there. There are 80-year-olds who’ve done it, and boy scouts who’ve done it. I’m just constantly in awe of the support that we’ve gotten from the community. You don’t have to be a cyclist to participate by any means.”
Soldier Ride Hamptons is on Saturday, July 22 starting at the Amagansett Farm located at 551 Montauk Highway in Amagansett. On Friday night, July 21 at Amagansett Square, all the soldiers who are coming in for the ride will be there, as a chance to actually say hello beforehand. There will be a light BBQ and a showing of the movie “Welcome to Solder Ride” around 8 p.m. Guests can register at fundraise.woundedwarriorproject.org/srhamptons.