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Wounded veterans cycle through Del Mar in Soldier Ride

More than 40 wounded veterans peddled through Del Mar to show they can still perform tiring tasks despite their disabilities and health issues.

The veterans rode around North Coastal San Diego on Feb. 1, beginning and ending at the Hilton Del Mar, as part of the Soldier Ride.

The ride — which originally started 16 years ago with a route from New York to San Diego — is presented by the Wounded Warrior Project. This year, it took place locally over four days, including a bike fitting and ride through Coronado Tidelands Park before the culminating Del Mar event.

Nick Kraus, founder of the Soldier Ride, said the event helps veterans adapt to civilian life and remember what they can do.

"It's getting out of the hospital, it's getting out of the house, it's the camaraderie, the team building," he said. "It's more than just riding a bike. You'll see over the course of a couple days that people make friends for life. It's also something that, when you get home, you can do by yourself or ride with other veterans. Cycling is a great way to get out there. Even though you might ride differently now, you can still get out there and ride. Whatever you need, we can make it work for you."

He added that the rides allow the public to "see the sacrifices that were paid" and show appreciation.

Soldier Ride
Wounded veterans ride on recumbent bikes near the finish line of a Soldier Ride through Del Mar. Courtesy of Nick Kraus

At the start of every ride, veterans are paired with adaptive cycling equipment that accommodate their injuries.

Asia Smith, who medically retired in 2009 as a soldier in the U.S. Army following two foot surgeries and a spinal fusion, said the ride allows veterans to be around like-minded people.

"A lot of us suffer from PTSD and sometimes we only feel comfortable being around other veterans," said Smith, who rode an incumbent bike, which places the rider in a laid-back reclining position. "A lot of times, we feel like civilians don't understand what we go through. It gives us a chance to be around what's familiar for us and what's comfortable for us."

Alexis King, a five-year enlisted administrative worker, medically retired from the U.S. Navy when she was diagnosed with cancer and underwent chemotherapy.

King, who beat her stage four Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, decided to participate in the Soldier Ride for the first time this year after losing 70 pounds and as a way to "try to be more fit."

Now, she's looking to compete in the Warrior Games in Miami, which includes adaptive sports like tennis, track, cycling, swimming, volleyball and basketball. She also wants to become a Warrior Leader and help other veterans in the Wounded Warrior Project.

Overall, she hopes the Soldier Run allows civilians to better understand veterans and their struggles.

"I want people to know that we're not lazy and we still want to work hard," King said. "Sometimes it might be a little harder for us to do it, but we actually want to still get out there. If we don't, there's a big reason behind it that we might not want to talk about."

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