By Carrie Ann Salvi
“It’s humbling to see how big it has gotten,” said Nicholas Kraus, co-founder of the Wounded Warrior Project’s Soldier Ride that will come through the East End next Saturday, July 18. There are now over 30 rides across the country, he said, and they took place in Germany and England this year as well.
Soldier Ride The Hamptons has always been the leader in the fund-raising competition, but Boston is getting close, Mr. Kraus warned. “I’m not saying it’s a Red Sox versus Yankees thing,” he joked, “but get registered, we don’t want to look bad if Boston beats us.”
The Hamptons ride is dedicated each year to the memory of U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter, son of JoAnn Lyles and Christian Haerter of Sag Harbor, who was killed in action April 22, 2008, in Ramadi, Iraq at the age of 19. Ms. Lyles supports the ride as a Gold Star mother, volunteer, and member of the American Legion’s Ladies Auxiliary, which runs the registration and opening ceremonies on the Sag Harbor end with the help of Girl Scouts and volunteers.
Ms. Lyles said on Tuesday that new this year are prizes for the most patriotic sideline supporters. She hopes it will help get people to line up along some of the most scenic roads on the East End in their patriotic best, “noisiest, wettest, most red, white, and blue…whatever!” she said. The riders will choose their favorites, and the grand prize will be dinner for four at a local restaurant.
Peter Honerkamp and Chris Carney were at the Washington DC ride in May, when the participating soldiers had the chance to meet President Barack Obama. The two East End locals have been in it from the beginning, when Mr. Carney conceived the idea for Soldier Ride while bartending at the Stephen Talkhouse, of which Mr. Honerkamp is part owner. Three years later, Mr. Kraus said they offered Soldier Ride to the Wounded Warrior Project because it made sense logistically and financially to merge the two organizations with the same goal to help wounded veterans when they return from war.
Aside from the thousands who return with obvious wounds such as missing or paralyzed limbs, the Wounded Warrior Project helps those with the invisible scars of post-traumatic stress disorder. “PTSD is the biggest thing for WWP right now,” Mr. Kraus said on Monday. “People are realizing what a big deal it is, how it affects the daily lives of so many.” The project is helping military members to get beyond the stigma of seeking the mental health counseling and assistance they need.
“The project is helping out some Long Island guys, too,” he said, “A number were out last week.” The veterans were in town for an annual fishing trip offered on Jimmy Buffett’s boat with his crew.
Soldiers from Great Britain and Israel will be in town for the ride, too. “It’s like an exchange program,” Mr. Kraus explained. Aside from “brothers-in-arms nuances,” he said, we learn things from each other, such as advances in prosthetics and hand-cycling techniques. “We introduced cycling to other coalition forces,” Mr. Kraus added, “Folks from the Soviet Republic of Georgia were riding in Germany, and now they are doing their own ride.”
People are seeing the benefits of rehabilitating outside of the hospital walls, Mr. Kraus said, “You’ve already accomplished something when you step out.” The change of scenery helps the soldiers tremendously, as does the appreciation shown by the public who recognize their sacrifices. Mr. Kraus has produced a film that demonstrates just that, and is excited to share the final cut version of the film in Amagansett Square with the community and wounded warriors at 8 p.m. on Friday, July 17, the night before the ride.
The film shows “all the things they have to offer, and all that the world has to offer them,” Mr. Kraus said. He toured the country this year with it to raise awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project, with great responses from the public. (The independently-financed film can be supported on its website www.welcometosolderride.com.)
Walkers and riders can pre-register for Soldier Ride the Hamptons until July 15, with a new $5 discount for those using the promo code “Team.” Pre-registrants can head straight to packet pickup on ride day and avoid the lines at www.soldierride.org/thehamptons. Choices include a 30-or 60-mile bike route or a 5K morning walk in Sag Harbor or Amagansett.
Water stations will be set up throughout the route, thanks to the Boy Scouts. “Parrotheads,” members of Mr. Buffet’s fan club, will also sponsor a water stop across from Cyril’s, where many a rider has been tempted to detour for other refreshments. Breakfast fuel will be offered in the morning to all riders or walkers, and opening ceremonies will take place at Marine Park in Sag Harbor at 8 a.m. A tribute to Lance Cpl. Haerter will begin at Marine Park in Sag Harbor at 10:30 a.m., followed by a “lap of heroes” at 11 a.m. down Main Street in the village.
In Amagansett, the opening ceremony is at 8:30 a.m. at the Amagansett Farm at 551 Montauk Highway, where the ride begins and ends, and where a DJ will play post ride at a community picnic open to all from noon to 4 p.m. A free concert will be held in Amagansett Square beginning around 6 p.m. when The Nancy Atlas Project will take the stage with special guests.