Two Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center employees recently pedaled their way across the state of Texas as part of an effort to raise awareness and bring attention to Veteran mental health and recovery.
Veronica Siffert, a Houston VA social worker, and Gregory Tennessee, a Houston VA physician assistant, joined more than 20 Veterans and first responders who participated in a Project Hero Texas Challenge ride in late April.
The Texas bike event took riders from San Antonio through Austin and Ft. Hood before ending in Ft. Worth. The ride was filled with comradery and healing among the participants, who rode as a group for more than 320 miles over six days. The Texas terrain was filled with hills and the weather ranged from burning heat to pouring rain.
“It was such an honor to take on this physical challenge with Veterans who have faced down some incredible obstacles,” said Siffert. “Seeing their determination and getting to hear their stories was inspiring.”
Project Hero is a national non-profit organization dedicated to helping Veterans and first responders affected by post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury and injury achieve rehabilitation and recovery. The group of riders in the Texas Challenge consisted of first responders and Veterans from all branches of the military. The riders made stops at local VFWs along the way and were cheered on by local school children who gave them high fives as they passed by. The riders also participated in a special ceremony at Ft. Hood.
“Seeing crowds chanting ‘U-S-A’ and waving American flags was heartwarming and just what we needed to keep us going during the ride,” Siffert said. “It was a great way to bring attention to Veterans and the challenges they often face after their military service.”
One of the cyclists, Marine Corps Veteran Patrick Kelly, said joining Project Hero was one of the best decisions he’s ever made.
“I was stuck in a wheelchair, and couldn’t do anything. I was overweight and on way too many meds,” said Kelly. “By riding, I got myself off the meds, got the circulation back in my legs and lost 70 pounds.”
Siffert said this is her 4th time doing the Project Hero Ride and she plans to sign up again next year.
“As a VA social worker, Veterans are always close to my heart,” she said. “Participating in this ride gives me the opportunity to bring awareness to what they often go through and to have firsthand reminders of how truly amazing our Vets are.”