Motorcycle riders raise money for veterans
A year ago, retired Army Corporal Andy Kingsley was in a dark place. He lost his right leg in Afghanistan in 2010 and needed something to lift his spirits.
Boston’s Wounded Vet Run gave him a three-wheeler motorcycle, and the trike changed his life.
“I would say this past year has probably been the best year of my life since after my injury because I’ve had the trike,” Kingsley, 25, said Saturday after completing the fifth annual Boston’s Wounded Vet Run.
The Gardner resident was among more than 6,700 motorcycle riders who trekked for 25 miles around Greater Boston to raise an estimated $100,000 for five soldiers from Massachusetts, Maine, and New Jersey who were wounded in Afghanistan.
The event culminated with a ceremony and concert at Suffolk Downs. The money raised goes toward housing modifications, basic living needs, or charities selected by the honorees.
For Kingsley, who was honored last year, the motorcycle community has given him a new lease on life.
“It gives me a sense of freedom,” said Kingsley, a Gardner resident. “I feel like [there are] no limitations when I’m on a bike. I can go do anything I want. If I need to get away . . . just get away from all the stress, that’s my tool. That’s my key.”
The motorcycle ride started five years ago with about 300 participants and has grown ever since, organizers said. This year, the event honored Army Staff Sergeant Nicholas Lavery of Boston; Brendan Ferreira of Somerset; Travis Mills of Manchester, Maine; Mike Downing of Middleborough; and US Marine Sergeant Aaron Alonso of Jefferson, N.J.
Governor Charlie Baker took to the stage alongside the veterans to thank them. He said the event shows that wounded veterans have not been forgotten.
“It provides basically very significant and tailored support to people who’ve been severely wounded serving our country,” he said in an interview. “It’s raised a ton of money and provided a lot of support.”
Lavery lost his right leg below the knee in 2013 after an Afghan police officer opened fire with a machine gun on his Green Beret team.
“My only regret is I only have two legs. I only have two arms. I only have one life to give for our way of life,” said Lavery, who received the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts.
“I will put myself in between everyone here and any enemy of this country without hesitation, without regret,” he told the crowd.
Ferreira lost his left arm on March 9, 2010, after a member of the Afghan Border Patrol wearing a suicide vest ran up behind him and some other soldiers and detonated his device. Two soldiers were killed in the attack. Ferreira is now a CrossFit coach.
Mills, 28, was on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan when he was critically injured by an improvised explosive device while on patrol. He lost portions of both arms and legs and is one of only five quadruple amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive, according to the website for the Travis Mills Foundation. The nonprofit organization Mills established seeks to benefit wounded veterans.
Downing, 48, lost both legs on Sept. 24, 2008, after being injured by an improvised explosive device during his second deployment in Afghanistan. He was awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and Combat Infantry Badge.
In 2010, the charity Homes For Our Troops built a new house for Downing and his family. The house has wider hallways and accessible doors to allow Downing to get around in his wheelchair.
Alonso, 26, said he lost both legs after an improvised explosive device detonated in Afghanistan on Feb. 8, 2014. He said he served with Marine Sergeant Daniel Vasselian, 27, of Abington, who was killed in Afghanistan Dec. 23, 2013.
Downing and Alonso were presented with trikes.
“I really can’t wait to get on it,” said Downing, who rode a 1996 Harley-Davidson Road King before his injury.
Alonso said he plans to ride his trike with a Christmas elf that belonged to Vasselian. He now displays the elf, named Damian, on his wheelchair.
“Damian will ride with me everywhere I go,” he said.