June 26, 2013
By Alex Dixon
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, June 25, 2013) -- Around 25 bicyclists and hand cyclists, including Soldiers and wounded warriors, rode out of Arlington National Cemetery, June 25, 2013, to begin the 3rd Annual Freedom Bike Ride.
The five-day ride begins in the nation's capital and culminates in Lewisburg, Pa., during the Union County Fourth of July parade there.
Sgt. Maj. Kevin Bittenbender, organizer of the event, said the annual ride began three years ago, when participants rode from Factoryville, Pa., to Lewisburg in order to honor Christy Mathewson, both a veteran of World War I and a MLB hall-of-fame inductee.
Last year, participants of the Freedom Bike Ride departed from the Vietnam War memorial to honor Vietnam veterans.
"This year, we picked a starting location that I consider to be the most hallowed ground in the United States," Bittenbender said. "And that's Arlington National Cemetery."
Before the participants departed around 9 a.m., Bittenbender spoke to them about how the first day of riding would be dedicated to Spc. Christopher Horton, who was killed in 2011 while serving in Afghanistan.
This year the ride will pass through Gettysburg, Pa., to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. The participants will also meet up with Ronald E. Rosser, Medal of Honor recipient and Korean War Veteran, who is being honored at the Lewisburg parade.
Kevin Connolly, renowned photographer, author, and host of the Travel Channel show "Armed & Ready," is a participant in this year's race and says his admiration for the military made him nervous about being one of the only civilian participants.
"I have a beard," Connolly said, laughing when recalling his initial thoughts about participating. "Is that going to be all right?"
Connolly, like several of the wounded warriors participating, rides a hand cycle because he was born without legs. He says that doesn't get in the way of his motivation to push himself physically.
Freddie de los Santos, a Soldier who had a leg amputated after an incident in Afghanistan, says his disability has made him even more competitive and increased his desire to be active.
"Sometimes I feel like this is the best thing that's happened to me," Santos said.
Santos is one of the top-rated U.S hand cyclists, and hopes to compete in the Olympics.
Bittenbender said the Freedom Bike Ride is not a race, but more of a "therapy ride," focused on camaraderie and enjoyment for the participants.
Graham Showalter, a former Soldier, serves as director of the Lewisburg, Pa., memorial events surrounding and including the parade, June 28. He says the parade has been a tradition now for 19 years. This year, the parade will feature around 20 bands and a float made by inmates at the Lewisburg Penitentiary.
"It's going to be a knock-your-socks-off parade," Showalter said.