GARY | Shaking cowbells, grasping homemade posters and waving American flags, a group gathered at the edge of the American Legion Post 279 parking lot Saturday afternoon, welcoming 200 bike riders traveling from Chicago to Detroit.
The riders are U.S. veterans participating in the 2013 Ride 2 Recovery United Healthcare Great Lakes Challenge. The 375-mile trek is part of a rehabilitation program through warrior transition units.
It's not a fundraiser or a race, said Debora Spano, spokesperson for Ride 2 Recovery.
There are seven weeklong challenges a year, she said.
For Adam Miller II, this Ride 2 Recovery is his first.
The 39-year-old Kokomo native was injured twice at Camp Atterbury in Edinburgh, Ind., hurting his hip and back. The injuries sidelined him from running, but he could ride a bike.
"I'm not a sit-around person," he said.
About four hours into the journey Saturday, Miller said he enjoyed the camaraderie. The extent of other riders' injuries helped put his in perspective.
"I can't complain," he said.
Indianapolis native Audra Edelen, now stationed at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, hurt her knees in the military, a condition that was aggravated while serving in Afghanistan. She couldn't run any more, so she turned to biking.
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Her health has improved. She has lost weight, and her depression subsided, she said.
"Riding has actually helped me," she said. "My knee has gotten stronger."
The 37-year-old Army reservist said she was enjoying her first Ride 2 Recovery challenge.
"It's wonderful," she said. "It's everything I expected."
Nathan DeWalt knows what to expect. The 25-year-old from York, Pa., counts this race as his 19th challenge.
"It started as rehab for me," he said.
DeWalt, who served as a master at arms in the Navy, was injured in a motorcycle accident July 11, 2008. His lower body is paralyzed, so he uses a hand crank bicycle to ride. DeWalt, who was medically retired in 2011, mentors new riders and encourages them.
During their Miller stop, bicyclists, clad in patriotic colors, snacked on sandwiches, granola bars, pickles, water, candy bars and soda, set up through the USO.
"Everything was purchased from donations from the generosity of the general public," said Leigh Edmonds, mobile program manager for the USO.
American Legion Post 279, with help from the ladies auxiliary, donated the use of its facilities. The ride ends Thursday in Detroit.