Suburbs welcome wounded vets on 500-mile trek
Omar Duran learned the hard way this weekend how Barrington Hills got its name.
"Whoever called you all 'flatlanders' needs to take it away," said Duran, a retired Army staff sergeant from Clearwater, Florida.
He was one of more than 100 wounded military veterans who joined the Project Hero 2017 Barrington Honor Ride Sunday at the Barrington Hills Park District Riding Center.
Duran, who rides with a handcycle because of injuries suffered when a roadside bomb exploded in Afghanistan, was in the Northwest suburbs as part of the 500-mile UnitedHealthcare Great Lakes Challenge that began in Minnesota and ends Monday in Evanston.
On Sunday morning, the group pedaled from their hotel in Palatine to Barrington Hills to take part in the Honor Ride.
Organizer and Barrington Hills resident Colleen Konicek said the 7-year-old event benefits Honor Ride, a national nonprofit organization that helps veterans and first responders affected by injury, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
This year's event has raised more than $30,000, she said.
This is the first year the Barrington Honor Ride teamed with the weeklong Great Lakes Challenge. Konicek said the Barrington and Barrington Hills community hosted the veterans Saturday night.
"I think it's such a gift for our community, a great way for us to give back to people who have given everything in defense of this country," she said. "I say to them always 'We're the ones who should be thanking you.'"
The honor rides have benefited veterans such as Ken Richardson of Chicago, who entered the military at 17 and switched "from blue to green" when he moved from the Navy to the Army. He suffered injuries to his shoulder, elbow, knees, shins and back when a roadside bomb exploded in Iraq.
"This was the only world I knew and the only world I wanted to take part in," he said of the military. Project Hero helped him make the transition to civilian life and his current job with the BNSF railroad.
On Sunday, he was volunteering at one of the tents, helping with such tasks as folding T-shirts.
The challenge riders were clearly enjoying not only the local hospitality, but also the company of their fellow veterans.
Carlos Rodriguez, a former Marine Sergeant from Hampton, Virginia, mentioned the close camaraderie in the group.
"It's the closest you can get to being back in the military," said Rodriguez, who is dealing with severe injuries from an attack during the first Gulf War in 1991. Among other things, he said he needs a double knee replacement.
"You learn that you're not the only one going through this by yourself. It's great to find that out."
Velette Britt of Colorado Springs, Colorado said the Challenge provided the opportunity to "meet new friends, see old friends and spend time with people who know what I'm going through."
Britt, who was a staff sergeant in the Air Force, hit her head and broke her spinal cord after she flipped over her handlebars while mountain biking.
"It's been a really awesome challenge, pushing myself," said Britt, who now rides a handcycle.
Among those on hand Sunday greeting cyclists was Barrington Hills Village President Martin McLaughlin.
"(Being) able to say thank you and give back in a small way really honors their service, and we are really pleased to do it," he said.