Veterans bike on a ride to recovery

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - The 2018 UnitedHealthcare Gulf Coast Challenge left Panama City Beach Tuesday morning and is heading farther west.

It's a bike ride benefiting Project Hero, which is a non-profit group promising to help veterans and first responders who are struggling mentally or physically after serving our country.

It gets the gears turning inside wounded veterans like Eric Murray.

"I like to think about my service and when the day I got hit by an IED and everything else so when I'm riding it's just focusing on the road and the people in front of me," he said.

"Many of them are retired," Peter Bylsma, the Director of Marketing Communications for Project Hero, said. "They are either injured or victims of PTSD, traumatic brain injury, MST (military sexual trauma)."

Many veterans said they consider bike riding therapeutic with positive side effects and low cost recovery options.

"We're riding 60 miles. That's tough, but you don't even realize that you ride it at the end," Veteran Candise Morgan explained. "I mean you're sore. Your body realizes it, but your mind is free."

"It takes me off of some of my medications that I was on," Murray said.

The bikers said they get lots of support as they go, in this case, from Tallahassee to New Orleans. That's not to mention the peer-to-peer support.

"We always have more people pushing us. 'Hey come on. You got this. You got this.' It's just a big camaraderie," Murray said.

"Their transcendent experience on the bikes allows them to communicate with one another and feel comfortable," Bylsma said. Then, by the end of the day they're tired. They feel good."

The goal of the program is to give them the chance to overcome many obstacles they face.

"If I can motivate and inspire anybody to take that first step or that first pedal or whatever it may be that's going to lift them out of their funk, then that's what it's all about to me," Veteran Steven Hughes said.

If you would like to support the veterans or know a veteran who could be encouraged by Project Hero, visit the organization's website.