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Cycling with Santa helps ring in the New Year for veterans

Posted on Tuesday, December 24, 2013 at 9:41 am

By Tiffanie Reynolds

Staff Writer

 On Dec. 28, Santa is losing his beard for recovering vets.

St. Cloud resident Dan Wermuth is the Santa in question, organizing and leading the Cycle with Santa fundraiser at St. Cloud Lakefront. Representing the newly-formed Orlando chapter of Project HERO (Healing Exercise Rehabilitation Opportunity), the money raised in this fundraiser will help equip and prepare the military veterans group for a 350-mile Texas Challenge with Ride 2 Recovery next March. To sweeten the deal, Wermuth added that the individual or group that donates the most would get to shave off his beard at the end of the ride.

Cycle with Santa is designed to be a bike challenge for cyclists of all skill levels, modeled after the Ride 2 Recovery cycling challenges he participates in as a vet. Those that donate and register will have the option of taking a 20, 30 or 40 mile route circling from St. Cloud Lakefront to the Lake Nona Veterans Association hospital site and back.

Money raised won’t go to Wermuth, but to Ride 2 Recovery in his name.  Ride 2 Recovery is a national nonprofit group that uses cycling as a form of therapy for veterans suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and other physical or psychological injuries from combat. The group gathers veterans together for events that span hundreds of miles in and through various states. Project HERO is the local branch of Ride 2 Recovery, operating out of local Veterans Association hospitals to encourage vets to continue their healing process through cycling.

Wermuth was introduced to Ride 2 Recovery about two and a half years ago when a local Project HERO chapter cycled through St. Cloud as part of a bigger Ride 2 Recovery Challenge. Almost a year later, he participated in his first Ride 2 Recovery Texas Challenge, and dedicated his life to the group ever since. Now, he has completed several Ride 2 Recovery Challenges, accumulating more than 11,600 miles cycling across the country.

“Ride to Recovery has taught me that, yeah, I have this stuff in my head, but I rode 40 miles this morning. What did you do? So, you know it’s OK to accept your deficiencies because you’ve got other stuff that you can do and can kick butt at and make a difference with,” Wermuth said.

On top of practicing for and participating in these challenges, Wermuth trained as a Project HERO representative, going through a week-long camp that introduced him to the types of bikes built for different physical ability levels as well as how to work with each of them. After his training, he was surprised to discover that the Veterans Association hospital in Orlando didn’t have a Project HERO chapter, let alone any room to exercise in. It spurred him to start a Project HERO chapter there.

He and about 40 other veterans bike through the Veteran’s Memorial Park in Orlando every Wednesday as part of Wermuth’s Hump Day at the VA. The park is part of a larger trail system, with some in the group cycling a two-mile loop and others going as far as 30 to 40 miles. Many of the members were from St. Cloud Cyclist, a local bicycling group Wermuth started after his first Ride 2 Recovery challenge that now has more than 140 members.

“We can take these guys that have given everything, and show them that there are people out there that want to say thank you. Some of them, that’s all they want,” Wermuth said about the vets he’s worked with on the Ride to Recovery Challenges.

The 2014 Texas Challenge will be the first Ride 2 Recovery Challenge the Orlando chapter of Project HERO will do as a group. Currently, Wermuth has 50 riders registered and $500 donated to Ride 2 Recovery in his name. His goal is to have a couple hundred riders by Dec. 28. Along with registered riders, Wermuth needs donations of water, peanut packets, energy bars, oranges, bananas and other healthy snacks for rest stations placed along the bike routes.

The event begins with registration at 7 a.m. on Dec. 28, with the challenge beginning at 9 a.m. at the St. Cloud Lakefront. To register early, go to http://www.wermuthphoto.com/cycling-with-santa-ride or visit their Facebook event page by searching “Cycling with Santa for the R2R.”

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