Wounded vets rest in Varnville

A group of disabled first responders and military veterans rested at the Varnville Town Hall last Thursday during a bike ride from Jacksonville, FL., to Atlanta, GA.

  • Nathan DeWalt

On Thursday, March 9, a colorful, patriotic peloton of hand cycles, recumbents, tandems and traditional bikes stopped at the Varnville City Hall for a rest stop between 9:15-10:30 a.m. as part of the ride from Yemassee to Augusta.

A group of injured veterans, first responders and their supporters participated in the UnitedHealthcare Beaches to Peaches Challenge, a seven-day bicycle ride from Jacksonville to Atlanta. The ride covered more than 500 miles in support of veterans and first responders. The veteran and first responder cyclists began in Jacksonville Monday, March 6, and finished in Atlanta, Sunday, March 12. The group made overnight stops in Yemassee, Brunswick, Savannah, Augusta, Washington and Athens.

The 2017 UnitedHealthcare Beaches to Peaches Challenge is a non-competitive therapeutic bike tour. Traveling by historic sites, civic centers and local attractions, the cyclists rode hand cycles, recumbent cycles and custom tandems. The public was invited to gather along the ride routes, at lunch stops and hotels to support the cyclists.

Participating in 48 previous strenuous rides of this caliber, wounded Naval Military Police Officer Nathan DeWalt, 29, said he greatly enjoyed the event. DeWalt was struck by a taxi cab which ran a stop sign while riding a motorcycle in 2011, rendering him paralyzed two months before a scheduled deployment to Afghanistan.

Although a transition period accompanies life-changing events, such as paralysis, challenging physical endeavors seem to help wounded individuals said the Navy veteran with five years of active duty experience.  A combination of physical and mental determination is required of the wounded individuals, he said.

“It’s addicting. I come back time and time again,” said DeWalt. “These are my brothers and sisters; this is my family. I enjoy being here and having this atmosphere and camaraderie.”

“One door closed for me, but a million more opened and I’m thankful for that. It’s been a blessing,” said DeWalt.  

“It’s an honor for UnitedHealthcare to support Project Hero and its work on behalf of the men and women who have sacrificed so much in the service of our country,” said Garland Scott, CEO of UnitedHealthcare for Georgia and the Carolinas. “Project Hero is making a crucial difference in the lives of thousands of veterans and first responders who deserve lifelong health, well-being and recognition.”

The hand cycle, powered by the arms of the rider, is a common bike beginning riders start out on. Many riders on the challenge have custom adapted push bars welded onto the rear of their cycles, allowing more traditional-style bicycle operators to push them up steep hills.