The Long Walk Home (TLWH) proudly hosted its fourth annual Veterans Day Bike Ride on Saturday, November 13th. The ride began and ended at the beautiful Fort De Soto Park, just south of St. Petersburg, FL. Over 300 riders, volunteers, and family members attended, making the event the biggest of its kind. Veterans from every military branch came out to show support for their brothers and sisters in arms. This was an excellent opportunity to bring hundreds like-minded Veterans and supporters together for one grand experience.
The event kicked off with opening remarks from Duane Stamm, USMC, who was one of the core organizers behind the bike ride. “I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for coming out this morning and taking part in this scenic ride,” he said, “but more importantly for [your service] whether in or out of uniform.” Veterans Day falls once a year, but the sacrifice that Veterans and active duty military personnel have made is something that deserves recognition no matter what day it might be.
TLWH’s founder, Ron Zaleski, followed Duane with some words of his own. “We have to help one another,” he exclaimed. “We can’t just wait around for the government; it’s up to us.” In 2011, Ron brought a petition to Washington D.C. demanding mandatory mental health counseling for all military personnel leaving the military. There, he learned that relying on politicians to create lasting change was a losing game. Since then, his focus has shifted to building TLWH’s programs and providing community-driven events like the Veterans Day Bike Ride.
Opening remarks were followed by the National Anthem and then it was off to the races. Riders had a choice between 10, 32, and 50 mile routes, each featuring gorgeous oceanside vistas. The ride was not designed as a race or a competition, but rather a leisurely event to foster community. Participants were encouraged to complete the ride at their own pace. When their route was finished, riders were treated to a delicious steak lunch and entertainment by the beach. The event featured live music, yoga, and a professional photo-op. Plenty of smiles and laughs were had. TLWH is incredibly grateful to all the volunteers who sacrificed their time to make this event possible, and for providing a fun experience for all.
All the money raised from ticket sales, merchandise sales, raffles, and in-kind donations at this event will go directly toward supporting Veterans and their families. This support takes many forms, most notably the Mentorship Program, which pairs Veterans with one of TLWH’s mentors and guides them along a series of personal challenges. The program is designed to address, and perhaps change, the Veteran’s way of thinking in a positive and constructive manner so that they may be of better service to themselves and become a leader to those around them. TLWH offers support in other areas as well, offering suicide prevention (ASIST) workshops and providing direct financial assistance to Veterans who may be asset limited.
To all those who donated and demonstrated their support for Veterans and active duty military personnel, TLWH thanks you for making a difference in the community. See you next year!