Riding a bicycle is one of the great and simple joys of life. The wind in your face, the freedom to propel yourself forward, the challenge of the hill ahead, and the exhilaration of coasting downhill. It's a wonderful thing.

For many injured military veterans, the bicycle is even more than that. It's a tool for healing, both physically and mentally.

Ride 2 Recovery is a Southern California nonprofit that supports physical and psychological rehabilitation programs for thousands of injured veterans across the United States. It features cycling as the core activity.

From indoor spinning training at military installations to multiday, long-distance rides, Ride 2 Recovery helps injured veterans heal through the challenge of cycling long distances using hand cycles, recumbents, tandems and traditional road bikes.

For the fourth year, United-Healthcare has teamed up with Ride 2 Recovery to sponsor cycling events throughout the country, including the upcoming UnitedHealthcare Ride 2 Recovery California Challenge, which begins Sunday and runs through Oct. 19. More than 200 injured veterans and their supporters will make the 450-mile bicycle trek from Palo Alto to Los Angeles.

Cycling is an important part of the recovery process for military members.

The UnitedHealthcare Ride 2 Recovery California Challenge is an opportunity to help them build strength and conditioning, and to help overcome the challenges many veterans face when returning home from service. It is also an opportunity for many of them to find camaraderie that has been missing since leaving their military units.


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As a former Marine Corps officer, it is especially important for me that we support and show our appreciation to our veterans who have sacrificed so much.

Many of the veterans who participate in the Ride 2 Recovery cycling challenges have lost an arm, or both legs, suffered brain trauma or some other type of injury. They have suffered through tremendous physical and emotional trauma, and this event is a way to help them with their recovery.

As we ride along California's scenic coast, the most rewarding and inspirational part is to see families, children and other veterans come out along the bike route to cheer on and support the cyclists.

To see all the flags, and to hear the cheers and chants of "USA" and "Thank you" mean so much to these healing and recovering heroes. The support for these veterans helps reinforce their determination, passion and drive in their recovery process.

Tackling the challenge of cycling California's Central Coast will hopefully open other possibilities to our injured veterans, to push themselves to achieve so much more, and to appreciate life to the fullest.

These injured veterans and thousands more like them who have sacrificed for our nation are the reason why UnitedHealthcare is sponsoring the California Challenge and why our employees are riding alongside these military members, and also volunteering and supporting the riders along the 450-mile route.

Come join us in showing your appreciation and support for our heroes. To learn how to help, show your support along the route or participate, go to www.ride2recovery.com, where you can get more information about the route and stops along the way.

Tom Wiffler is chief field operations officer for UnitedHealthcare Military & Veterans.