Kathleen White served 10 years with the Army National Guard, which included being a .50-caliber tail gunner on convoy escorts in Iraq from 2003-2004. The Raynham resident is on disability now, having suffered traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, and hearing loss in one ear from combat.
“The first year out, I was a hermit, I never left the house. The second year, I got as far as the mailbox and back,” said the 39-year-old White, who grew up in Stoughton. “The third year, I found the Wounded Warrior Project. Things got better and have been getting better ever since.”
White is joining the Wounded Warrior Project’s Soldier Ride Sept. 18-22, a cycling event that brings injured veterans together for a weekend focusing on camaraderie and physical and emotional wellness. Veterans are outfitted with adaptive equipment, and events include three days of rides that begin on Cape Cod and end in Concord.
White has joined the organization on many adventures, saying that participation “makes you feel like you’re not alone. It makes you get out into the world, makes you feel better.”
The Soldier Ride also has a community ride for the general public on Sept. 21, starting and finishing at the Old Manse in Concord.
“I started training for this at the veterans’ center at the Brockton VA,” said White, who learned about the Wounded Warrior Project at a women veterans’ seminar and will ride a recumbent bike in the Soldier Ride. “I’m doing all four days. If it kills me, I’m going to do it.”
The ride is free for wounded veterans; the public ride is a fund-raiser for the organization.
“What we do is a ride, not a race; you ride just to finish it,” White said. “It empowers you, you’ve accomplished something, and it’s something you get through with your veteran buddies.”
Of all the events she’s participated in with the organization, her favorite by far was tuna fishing, largely because it was with captain Dave Marciano, skipper of the fishing boat Hard Merchandise, which is featured on the reality TV show “Wicked Tuna.”
“He’s my god of fishing,” she said with a laugh about the fishing trip she and other veterans took with Marciano out of Gloucester.
“You don’t have to think when you’re doing something like fishing,” she said. “With PTSD, you overthink everything, but when you’re fishing, you don’t have to think, you leave your brain at the dock.”
The work of the Wounded Warrior Project, White said, provides emotional salve for injuries seen and unseen.
“The worse wounds, they say, are the ones that aren’t visible,” White said. “You lose a leg or an arm, you can get a prosthetic device. There are no prosthetics for brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder.”
People who haven’t served don’t know the experience of war, and as much as they want to help, are often ill-equipped to do so, White said. Veterans who have been there are the ones she and others turn to.
“You want to be around people who’ve had those experiences. When you get out of the service, you miss being around your guys,” she said. “If you can get together even for one day, you say, ‘If I can make it and do this one thing, I’ll be all right.’ ”
Soldier Ride began in 2004 when civilian Chris Carney cycled more than 5,000 miles coast-to-coast to support the Wounded Warrior Project. The following year, Carney did it again, but with wounded vets of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Soldier Ride has been welcomed at the White House, starting in 2008 when President George W. Bush called it “the most inspiring athletic event in the country,” and most recently in April when President Barack Obama met with Wounded Warrior Project vets before the event.
White has been involved with the project events for five years now, and will continue, she said, “to get the word out, to let veterans know they’re not alone.”
The project also has a program geared toward caregivers, which helped White’s mother, Marion White.
Kathleen White said her mother “took care of me the first five years I was home. The caregiver program helped her so much, and she learned a lot about getting the word out about the project.
“The Wounded Warrior Project saved my life, there’s no question in my mind it saved my life,” she said. “Now I just want to put the word out for them, and the Soldier Ride helps do that.”
Paul E. Kandarian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.