Day 5 – Ft. Walton to Panama City
It never fails that the end of each Challenge comes quickly. The first day’s apprehension has turned to boisterous enthusiasm. Certainly riding through the spring break town of Panama City with all its uniqueness on display ranks high. It’s great to see how much progress the riders make in just a few days. For Valerie Gambino and Andi Talley, it was the first time they rode and finished with the “A” group. That accomplishment really motivates them to train at home and improve for their next Challenge Experience.
There are 75 first time riders on the Gulf Coast Challenge. There are 3 riders that have, each in their own way, came to the ride for different reasons and have risen to the occasion. Kenny, Jeremy, and Jesse each have a unique story.
Kenny comes from Ft. Hood and has just retired from the Army. He’s been trying to find an outlet to reintegrate into civilian life and heard about R2R from some fellow soldiers that had found new hope and contentment through participation in R2R. He was very proud that he has ridden every mile.
Jeremy was referred by an R2R staff member who knew him from the Nashville area. Jeremy had participated with another organization’s ride but wanted to try something a bit different and heard about the special brotherhood and comradery of R2R. Jeremy is a country singer by trade and was never in the military but wanted to come out and entertain the warriors. He ended up getting much more out of the experience than he gave.
Jesse came to R2R through the Project HERO program at the Long Beach VA. A Marine who has served both as enlisted man and as an officer, he suffered from severe depression and was considered high risk for suicide. He has found that riding a bike has changed everything. He completed his first century yesterday and has ambitions to race Leadville with the rest of the R2R team this year…he should have no trouble as he’s a super strong rider.
Tomorrow the ride will finish in Tallahassee.