Veterans Charity Ride takes veterans on a motorcycle therapy journey to Sturgis, SD for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and it does wonders for the veterans. We’ve supported them for a couple years now – here’s another story from 2019.
Headed to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally: Therapy on the Road Veterans Charity Ride 2019
by Sara Liberte
This was my fourth year supporting Veterans Charity Ride as a photographer/videographer. Every year I’m blessed to experience a host of friendships with some of the greatest men and women our country has to offer. When you spend longer than 2 weeks on the road with people, (most of the time) you end up with a really strong bond. I’m eternally grateful for the friendships I have gained over the years.
I’ve watched several double leg amputees get the opportunity to operate a motorcycle again with the Indian Motorcycle and Champion sidecar set up we use, and to be honest, there really isn’t much in life that can beat this.
Who Are These People and What did I Get Myself Into?As a photographer, I study people, I study their looks, expressions, their body language. When I first meet the veterans on the ride I can see the hesitation they have about opening up to strangers. A “who are these people and what did I get myself into” look comes over their faces. After the 3rd or 4th day, I watch these stoic men and women form connections with one another. Smiling becomes more frequent as they feel the wind in their faces. The tightness in their breathing releases from their chest and the weight is lifted from their shoulders. To provide memories for them is an honor I cherish.
Moab, UtahOne of the major stops for us on this expedition is Moab Utah, home base for Veterans Charity Ride and Adventure Vet. Every year Moab throws a welcome celebration in the town square and vehemently supports locals who show up to give thanks to our veterans. This year the town invited out a few veterans staying at the Canyonlands Care Center nursing home in Moab. One was a 94-year-old WWII Coastguard veteran by the name of Miss Kay. At 94 years young, she climbed inside one of the sidecars and rode down the row of flags with our veteran group.
The vets are welcomed up on the stage where they are given tons of love and appreciation. On stage with our guys this year were 3 other older veterans of WWII and Korea. Some were in wheelchairs and some had oxygen. As I turned to look, I saw one of them break down and cry. This older man was weeping big tears. I don’t have to tell you what he was thinking, you already know. Like a dam getting ready to burst, I couldn’t hold back my own.
After the ceremony I overheard one of the nursing staff mention it was dinnertime. The next thing I saw was cold sandwiches being handed out. I’m sure these were fine, but I couldn’t help but think of how we had been eating delicious meals every night during this entire journey and cold food was all that was on the menu tonight for our older veterans. It was a soul-stirring moment I will never forget.
Canyonlands Care CenterI found out the names of the veterans and where the nursing home was located. Next, I spoke to my friend Johnny Killmore, (the pilot of my sidecar, also a veteran of both Army and Marines), and also Sargent Major Keith Helfrich (10th group Special Forces), who was on this trip as a veteran mentor. Once I told them what I wanted to do and they were in, and it was on!
The next day we were off to the nursing home to visit with these older veterans. The staff was so excited to see us and couldn’t wait to go get them and bring them down to the common area where we would be able to sit and visit. We were introduced to Kay Stoye, Coast Guard Veteran, Matt Langianese Army Veteran, Bill Frank Air Force Veteran, Nick Chavez Army Veteran, and Ray Martinez Navy Veteran. We gave them gifts, shared stories, shook hands, and we hugged.
I asked Johnny to share his thoughts on the day since I myself am not a veteran. Here is what he had to say.
“One of the things that brings me back as a veteran mentor for the Veterans Charity Ride every year is the life lessons it reminds me of. Each year a new group of veterans comes aboard to make the trek to South Dakota, with different backgrounds, and yet, similar stories. We share something not just because of our service but because we are human beings, searching for purpose.
This year, arriving in Moab, Utah the city not only welcomed us to town but brought several of their local veterans out from the Canyonlands care center to share the stage and some of the limelight with us. Getting to meet people who are generations apart from me but who also served really brought home the concept that we are all connected in some way. And it only made sense to return the favor and meet up with them back at their place.
We didn’t just share stories about places we served or people we served with. We talked about motorcycle rides, old friends, career choices, and a range of topics from the mundane to the amazing. Listening to stories of lives lived fully and challenges met made it clear why these men and women are called the Greatest Generation.”
On our way out we gave some money to Kim Macfarlane, manager of Canyonlands Care Center and asked her to PLEASE get these guys a wonderful take out meal from their favorite place in town. She was happy to do so and even sent us photos. Nothing could have made us happier.
If you find yourself with a few hours to spare on any given day, head down to your local nursing home and ask to visit with some of the veterans in their care. I guarantee you will make their day, and honestly, you’ll end up making your own.
When I finally stopped crying I was overcome with such a warm feeling. Listening to the stories these guys shared and witnessing the smiles on their faces is something I will never forget. Our older veterans need just as much love, care, and support as our younger ones. Let’s not forget them.
Read more about the Veterans Charity Ride motorcycle therapy from Sara Liberte; if you’re someone who rides a lot, check out our article about going heeled on two wheels.