WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- A cloudy and cool Tuesday morning couldn't stop the excitement surrounding the first Cycling Heals, Vets Connect bike ride at Salem Lake.
"It was perfect today," veteran Dana Hutson said. "It's cool enough today so you didn't get too hot. A lot of hills. I am out of shape, but it was fun."
Veteran Joseph Oliver was thrilled about the new event as well.
"For this kind of organization to come together with veterans, it gives us a sense of camaraderie again, the brother and sisterhood. It's something we miss," Oliver said.
Operation North State, a volunteer military support group, along with the Winston-Salem-based National Cycling Center, sponsored the bike ride around Salem Lake. Some veterans rode their own bikes while others borrowed bikes provided by local bike shops.
It was a fun morning for everyone involved, but the cruise around Salem Lake has a bigger purpose. According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, an average of 20 veterans die from suicide every day. Terry Snyder is the founder of Operation North State. He said the group is backing the first time bike ride because they want to reduce the veteran suicide rate.
"We are convinced that recreational therapy and getting them out of the house and doing something helps. Cycling is one of those avenues," Snyder said.
While biking around Salem Lake, veterans build relationships and heal emotional scars.
"When we are able to get together, it makes it easier for us to cope with our injuries," Oliver said. "We don't get over them, but we cope with them better."
Hutson believed the Cycling Heals, Vets Connect bike ride gave vets something to look forward to.
"It helps you get through. There are moments in your life you don't know if you want to go forward. To have something like this, you can say, 'Hey I am going to be on the trail again and I am going to go farther,'" Hutson said.
Volunteers are also a part of Cycling Heals, Vets Connect. For bike shop owner Travis Beane, it was an honor to be with the vets.
"There are a lot of guys and girls that have done their service for us. So this is our way of giving back," Beane said.
Oliver added a good ear and kind words from non-veterans can help vets like him feel a part of the community once again.
"Someone to say thank you for your service. We hear it all of the time. But if someone thanks me for my service, I thank them for their support. Without the community behind us, we don't have anybody," Oliver said.
Cycling Heals, Vets Connect is a free event that meets every second Tuesday of the month at 9:30 a.m. Salem Lake is located at 815 Salem Lake Road in Winston-Salem. Bikes are provided if you don't have one. Non-veterans are encouraged to ride with the veterans.