TIM KELLY PHOTO
A combat veteran leads a pack of riders down New Suffolk Road in Cutchogue Saturday during the North Fork Soldier Ride through Southold Town.
The first-ever North Fork Soldier Ride left Mitchell Park in Greenport just after 9:30 a.m. Saturday with at least 200 riders, who joined the event in support of 15 wounded soldiers riding point with the group as they traversed the North Fork, holding memorial events in each town as they passed.
Created by Chris Carney and Nick Kraus, a co-owner of The Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett, Soldier Ride gives veterans with war wounds a chance to challenge themselves physically. Members of the public are invited to join the rides in solidarity with the soldiers.
Saturday morning, veterans, parents whose sons or daughters are serving in the military and members of local fire departments were among the riders.
“I’m a wounded vet myself, so this event has a soft spot in my heart,” said John Beck of Westhampton Beach, who planned to ride 28 miles.
Southold Fire Department member Patty Mellas was riding to Mattituck and back with a group of 19 riders. She said that Dennis O’Donnell, a Laurel resident who organized the North Fork ride, had come to her firehouse to ask for help. The fire department agreed to serve as a water stop along the route and offered the soldiers a steak dinner Saturday night.
Event participants paid a registration fee that supports The Wounded Warrior Project, Soldier Ride’s parent organization, which provides a wide range of services for returning soldiers. Cyclists also had the option of setting higher fundraising goals.
Though the tally of funds raised has yet to be finalized, at the start of the ride Mr. O’Donnell thanked Peter Sabat, who had raised $2,400 — more than any other rider — in the weeks leading up to the event.
In offering remarks, Mr. O’Donnell was joined by several public officials, including Congressman Tim Bishop, who thanked the veterans for taking Congress to task for the shoddy care initially received by veterans who returned from Iraq.
“You really have shown us the way,” he said.
Event co-founder Nick Kraus reminded riders that “three guys in a bar in Amagansett sharing a beer started this. Look what you can do.”
“I was in the Stephen Talkhouse a few times in my youth and I don’t think anything good came out of the ideas I had there,” said Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell. “I’m humbled to be here. It really makes me proud of the community.”
“We are undyingly proud of you,” Greenport Mayor David Nyce told the veterans. “No words or tokens can express our gratitude for what you’ve done. In sailing, we have a saying, ‘We wish you fair winds and following seas.’ That doesn’t quite work here, but I wish you flat roads and no headwinds.”