The saying “freedom is not free” has always stuck with me in terms that our nation was founded and built by brave men and women who believed in our country so much that they fought to the death to honor our nation. My love for what our military has done for this country is a feeling I hold close to my heart. I am beyond grateful for what millions of courageous people have given me. Yesterday I had the chance to ride with some selfless souls who defend our freedom every day. I have never shared any of my political views nor will I today. I need however to express how moved I was to be an American yesterday and every single day.
Each year there is a Wounded Warrior Soldier Ride here on Long Island. It is held on our gorgeous south shore. Beaches, boats, beautiful homes built into the dunes, and communities of people who showed up to support our wounded warriors who selflessly defend us here and abroad.
The event is a 25 mile bike ride that included some 75 or so wounded warriors and maybe 1250 riders. The streets and highways are closed down for this event. I am no stranger to riding 20-22 miles to the beach so I thought this is a nice way to be involved and say thank you to a group of folks who provide me and my family with every day freedoms which I feel I often take for granted.
I still lack bike confidence so starting out the ride amongst 1250 people was I won’t lie a bit shaky. Some may say comical but the word I’ll use this morning is shaky. We will leave it at that. Once I found my groove and bike moxie I unclenched my jaw and looked around me. We were sailing through Smalltown USA. People were lining the streets cheering. Every mile a fire department had an arch over the roadway with a ginormous American flag and at times water misting on us (did I mention it was 96 degrees?). Bagpipes played. Drums kept cadence. We pedaled on.
During one part of the ride I rode with Patrick who decided he would roller skate the entire event. We chatted. He had served briefly and was injured on his last tour in Afghanistan. His cousin was killed years ago in Iraq. He always rides..or skates in his memory. I choked back tears as I chatted with Patrick and his little crew he had with him.
At the halfway point of the race we rode into a small town that took my breath away. The “Rocky” theme played as we entered town. A woman was holding a flag yelling USA!! I joined her. It felt wonderful!! I was so energized. I passed a gentleman in his Vietnam hat with pins. He had his hand on his heart. I shouted “thank you for everything”. He blew me a kiss and said thank you my dear. More tears. Around the next corner I rode by a whole group of preschoolers outside of their school. All were dressed in red, white, and blue. They were holding flags and singing God Bless America. I nearly fell off my bike. I was moved beyond words.
The last leg of the ride was brutally hot and dry. I lapsed into thought. Our military endures conditions a million times worse every day. I simply cannot imagine what they go through. My mind shifted back to the supporters who were lining the streets. We are all American. No matter what you see on tv these days or what is happening in DC, we are all one. The level of patriotism I experienced yesterday was a gift. I think it’s always been there. Maybe now it’s not as strong as it used to be but it is still there. My goodness it felt good.
The ride wrapped and we welcomed our warriors into the venue with cheers and applause. I wasn’t able to physically say thank you to the group but my thanks is in my heart and how I support what they have done every single day. Freedom is not free but it is alive and kicking in all we do whether we realize it or not.