About 50 wounded veterans from across the country will join the annual Wounded Warriors Project Soldier Ride, which starts Thursday in Rosemont.
The five-day event includes a 15-mile course through the village starting at the Rosemont Fire Station on River Road and ending at the Chicago Bandits fastpitch softball stadium at Balmoral Avenue and Pearl Street. The ride starts at 10 a.m. and ends at noon.
On the following two days, cyclists will ride a 17-mile stadium tour from Wrigley Field down to U.S. Cellular Field, and 25 miles from the Chicago Fire House station 98 downtown all the way up north to a Highland Park fire station on Central Avenue.
"Over three days we're doing over 50 miles," said Shana Gibbs, logistics coordinator for the Wounded Warrior Project and Soldier Ride.
The entire ride, including the riders' transportation and hotel accommodations at Aloft in Rosemont, is funded by the Wounded Warrior Project through private donations. The nonprofit organization does not receive any funding from federal, state or local governments, Gibbs said.
The goal of the ride is to offer veterans a chance to engage with other wounded veterans while helping them "combat the physical, emotional and spiritual wounds of war," Gibbs said.
On Wednesday, the veterans were outfitted with custom adaptive hand cycles, trikes and bicycles, donated by Trek Bicycle for the event, and other gear, such as cycling shorts and jerseys, a Wounded Warrior Project polo shirt and a duffle bag.
"We adapt to any injury," Gibbs said. "We only go as fast as the slowest rider."
The emphasis on physical health and fitness is why Donna Pratt of Chicago has participated in the ride three times. After leaving active duty, Pratt said veterans often feel a sense of loss and isolation.
"Coming to an event is like having a team again," the 41-year-old said. "The ride is always challenging no matter how many times we take it."
An Army veteran who served in Iraq fixing weapons and supplying soldiers, Pratt suffered noncombat-related injuries. She had fractures in both feet, torn ligaments and tendons and developed nerve damage.
"Once you become injured, there's this stigma that you can't do anything," said Pratt, who rides a handcycle. Participating in the ride makes her feel like "no matter what injury you have, you can still accomplish something. It evens the playing ground for everybody."
The Soldier Ride is open to all 33,000 Wounded Warrior Project registered alumni. For more information, visit woundedwarriorproject.org.