Therese Mangham was on her second deployment in Iraq in 2008 when her two-decade military career came to a screeching halt.
An improvised explosive device went off in front of her, and while she doesn't remember the explosion itself, its effects have lingered. Ms. Mangham, 43, lost half of her vision and has suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder for years.
Ms. Mangham is one of 41 veterans participating in a bike ride today and Saturday in the Pittsburgh region. Organized by the Wounded Warrior Project, the ride, called Soldier Ride, aims to give veterans who suffered physical or mental injury during their service an opportunity to gain confidence and meet others with similar challenges.
The program is free for participants. Many flew or drove into Pittsburgh from throughout the country on Thursday morning for the ride. The Wounded Warrior Project provided participants with helmets and bicycles, tailoring equipment to fit the physical needs of each veteran.
"We try to have all parts of the military represented, but the warriors just bond so strongly no matter what branch they're from," said Amanda Becker, a Soldier Ride specialist at the Wounded Warrior Project.
"When they come on a Soldier Ride, they feel like they're part of a group, part of a platoon, again."
Joseph Boling, a 30-year-old Marine from Columbus, Ohio, who broke his neck in a training accident in 2006, said meeting other veterans who have dealt with injuries suffered during their military service has provided him with the sense of camaraderie he missed when his injury altered the future of his military career.
An infantry officer preparing for a second deployment in Iraq, Mr. Boling said one of the worst consequences of his injury was not being able to deploy with his platoon.
"I had a platoon of Marines that I was getting ready to deploy with. I mean, those are Marines that you've trained. ... You've had this shared misery for eight months doing a pre-deployment work-up," Mr. Boling recalled. "And then, not being able to deploy with them is definitely a big letdown, and then the further letdown is realizing you may never be able to do that again."
Mr. Boling has participated in several other Wounded Warrior Project initiatives, and in addition to the emotional support he has gained, he said he also has benefitted from his fellow veterans' knowledge. Working with the various agencies, such as the Department of Defense or the Department of Veterans Affairs, would have been much more difficult otherwise, he said.
Today, Mr. Boling and other veterans will take to their bikes for a 13-mile ride beginning at the Duquesne Incline near Station Square.
On Saturday morning, the ride will follow a 19-mile course around Moraine State Park in Butler County.
Although her office has organized similar bicycle rides in 17 other cities, Ms. Becker said her team had to visit Pittsburgh twice to find a route that does not involve too many hills.
In preparation for the 32 miles he will cover today and Saturday, Omar Santossantaella, 36, bought a road bicycle and trained for several hours each day.
As he puts on his helmet this morning, the veteran, who suffered a severe head injury following a roadside bombing in Iraq in 2007, is not worried he will fall behind.
"I'm with a bunch of veterans and a bunch of soldiers, and the motto of the military is, 'Never leave a soldier behind,' " he said.
"I know I'll be fine."
Daniel Sisgoreo: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1410 or on Twitter @DanielSisgoreo. First Published June 28, 2013 4:00 AM