WASHINGTON, Sept. 6, 2016 — Christian music plays on a portable speaker as the Army veteran coasts downhill in his recumbent cycle. He waves thanks to the teammates who helped him up the hill and continues his ride at a steady pace, enjoying every minute of the two-day, 110-mile Face of America ride from Arlington, Virginia, to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Army veteran Sgt. Albert Gonzalez, who served 19 years in field artillery, was medically discharged for issues with his lower back and shoulder and post-traumatic stress from a deployment to Iraq from 2004 to 2005.
When Gonzalez first left the military and started recovering from his injuries, he says he went to a dark place. Cycling and listening to Christian music helped him in his recovery, he said, and he now rides for Rescue 22, a nonprofit organization, to raise awareness about the importance of suicide prevention.
“Rescue 22 means a lot more to me than anything else, because for the past two years, I’ve gone through some really tough times,” he said.
In the last year, Gonzalez said, he came close to becoming a statistic several times, but talking, prayers and support from his friends, family and teammates helped him get through. “When you talk to people who have been through it and know what to tell you and what you need to hear and things like that, it means a lot,” he said.
Gonzalez said he’s had veterans and their family members approach him because of the jerseys he wears about suicide prevention.
“It’s a different meaning for different people,” he said, “but we’re all here for the same reason and that’s to try to save a life.”
Gonzalez said he is at peace when he rides and enjoys the camaraderie, the brotherhood and support he gets by being amongst his fellow veterans at charity rides like Face of America.
“It’s great to ride with everybody and hear different stories from World War II to Korea to Vietnam [veterans], to us telling our stories about Iraq to them,” he said. “They learn about us, and we learn about them, the differences in how they were treated and how we’re treated. It’s a great experience, and it’s something we all share together.
“I love being out here with all my brothers and my friend and the new friends we meet out here. It really means a lot. It’s something I plan my vacation time for this ride every year,” Gonzalez said. “None of us look at disability. Everybody just gets on the bikes and they ride. Everybody helps everybody.”
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