Roughly 600 bike to help wounded vets

About 600 cyclists turned out at Holman Stadium on Saturday morning with the goal of raising $50,000 to help rehabilitate wounded veterans as part of Project HERO (Healing Exercise Rehabilitation Opportunity).

The event was organized as part of Ride 2 Recovery, a nonprofit organization designed to help promote mental and physical rehabilitation for wounded veterans using cycling as the core activity.

That often means customizing a two-wheeler to fit the specific needs of a disabled veteran.

"It’s pretty much for empowerment – overcoming the obstacles (veterans) have had in their lives," said Craig Hall, a mobile vet center technician for the West Springfield, Mass., Vets Center.

"There’s a lot of civilians here to show their support for vets, donate their time and money to show their support," said Hall, a four-year veteran of the U.S. Army.

Riders could select a 10-, 30- or 50-mile course around Greater Nashua during the second annual ride this weekend.

"Twenty-six companies locally are supporting this event today … the volunteer crew is growing," said Ronald Bingham, of Goodale’s Bike Shop, a lead sponsor of the ride. "You are definitively changing the lives of our veterans."

Members of Nashua Fire Rescue gathered early at Jeannotte’s Market to help prepare sandwiches for the riders. Songs from the Grateful Dead and Jim Croce blasted from speakers as bikers lined up in the chute.

At one point, organizers wanted to "thank all the VIPs" and called upon all veterans to raise their hands as the very important people in attendance.

"And to our veterans who are here today – thank you for what you have done for this country," said U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Nashua Republican, who spoke ahead of the ride. "Because without your service and defending our nation, we wouldn’t be here on this beautiful day."

The challenge was dedicated to the memory of Sgt. John "Jack" Nash, a member of the U.S. Army 196th Light Infantry Brigade in Vietnam. He opened a successful bike shop, Onion River Sports, of Montpelier, Vt., and one of the region’s most prominent cycling teams, Stowe/Shimano.

Nash died of a heart attack at age 67 in September 2013 while riding his bike. His widow, Barb, rode Saturday in Nashua.

"It really means a lot to us," she said. "We’re here today to honor vets, and thank you so much for serving our country."

Chris Garofolo can be reached at 594-6465, or @Telegraph_Chris.