KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO
Riders begin their journey at Mitchell Park in Greenport on Saturday morning. (See video below.)
The first-ever North Fork Soldier Ride left Mitchell Park in Greenport just after 9:30 a.m. Saturday with at least 200 riders, who joined the event in support of 15 wounded soldiers riding point with the group as they traversed the North Fork, holding memorial events in each town as they passed.
Soldier Ride, created by Chris Carney and Nick Kraus, a co-owner of The Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett, it gives soldiers with war wounds a chance to challenge themselves physically. Members of the public are invited to join the rides in solidarity with the soldiers.
Saturday morning, veterans, parents whose sons or daughters are serving in the armed forces, and local fire departments were in abundance among the riders.
“I’m a wounded vet myself, so this event has a soft spot in my heart,” John Beck of Westhampton Beach, who planned to ride 28 miles, said at the race start.
Southold Fire Department member Patty Mellas was riding to Mattituck and back with a group of 19 fellow volunteers. She said that Dennis O’Donnell, a Laurel resident who organized the North Fork ride, came to her fire house to ask for help. The fire department agreed to serve as a water stop along the route and will offer the soldiers a steak dinner tonight.
Participants in the event pay a registration fee that supports The Wounded Warrior Project, Soldier Ride’s parent organization, which provides a wide range of services for returning soldiers. The riders also have the option of setting higher fund-raising goals.
Though the final number for funds raised has yet to be tallied, at the start of the ride Mr. O’Donnell thanked the highest fundraiser, Peter Sabat, who had raised $2,400 in the weeks leading up to the event.
He was joined by several public officials, including U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop, who thanked the veterans for taking Congress to task for the shoddy care initially received by veterans who returned from Iraq.
“You really have shown us the way,” he said.
Nick Kraus, one of the ride’s founders, reminded riders that “three guys in a bar in Amagansett sharing a beer started this. Look what you can do.”
“I was in the Stephen Talkhouse a few times in my youth and I don’t think anything good came out of the ideas I had there,” said Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell. “I’m humbled to be here. It really makes me proud of the community.”
“We are undyingly proud of you,” Greenport Mayor David Nyce told the veterans. “No words or tokens can express our gratitude for what you’ve done. In sailing we have a saying, we wish you fair winds and following seas. That doesn’t quite work here, but I wish you flat roads and no headwinds.”