SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Dozens of wounded American veterans will be pedaling around the valley for the next two days.
The 42 soldiers were in Scottsdale Thursday getting fitted for bikes that they will use for two 20-mile bike rides. The first one is Friday and will take the riders from the U-Haul headquarters on Central Avenue to the U-Haul house on Tatum Boulevard in Paradise Valley.
The soldiers will ride from Scottsdale to Cave Creek on Saturday.
The rides are sponsored by the Wounded Warrior Project, which helps returning soldiers deal with several problems.
“Among (the problems veterans face) are mental health, physical health and economic empowerment,” said Wounded Warrior Director Al Giordano.
He said the ride will reunite soldiers who fought together in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“These young men and women have those bonds from being on that military team,” Giordano said. “They’re together for two, three, four, five, six eight years. Now, all of a sudden they leave the service. When they go home, there’s really nobody around that understands (what they went through.)”
U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Melissa Gonzalez knows all about that. She was wounded in Afghanistan in 2010.
“I was a cop,” said Gonzalez. “I was on convoys, and was involved in an improvised explosive device. I injured my ankle and suffered a traumatic brain injury.”
Gonzalez even had to re-learn how to speak.
“I had speech problems,” she said. “The words that were coming in my head were not coming in my mouth. They were jumbled, so I had to go through speech therapy.”
She suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and panic attacks. She has had to undergo several surgeries for her ankle and now she has something else to deal with.
“I’m Catholic, and yet I’m going through a divorce,” Gonzalez said. “It was a big change for me. One of the reasons (for the divorce) is that he never understood (what she was going through), even though I explained it to him.”
She now has a service dog named Bindy to help her through the day. Bindy underwent one year of training and can now help Gonzalez with things like opening and closing doors, carrying items and just simply being there to help her get through flashbacks and panic attacks.
Gonzalez will be riding a three-wheeled bike and knows many of the soldiers on the ride but is hoping to make new friends.
“I’m excited to build even more bonds with people that I’ve never even met before,” she said.
Giordano said that if you see any of the wounded soldiers riding through the Valley over the next couple of days, be sure to thank them.
“You cannot put a price tag on the value for these young men and women to realize that people care about their sacrifices,” he said.