GE Rides with Xavier to Help Veterans Recover

There’s a new sound coming from the Center for Innovation, where scores of 3D printers line the shelves and students gather for class. It’s the sound of tires spinning and pedals pumping as bicycles, going nowhere, are ridden hard by men and women seeking an outlet for a stress they may or may not feel.  

They are veterans, and they’re riding stationary bikes in the nation’s first and only Ride 2 Recovery Project HERO facility to be housed at a university—a testament to Xavier’s commitment to veterans. The facility, which opened in February with support from GE, focuses on helping veterans recover from the stress of military life and combat.

"We weren't surprised that Xavier welcomed us with open arms," says Amber Humphrey, the Ride 2 Recovery East Region program manager. "Without their help, we wouldn't be here."

Humphrey, a 2002 Xavier alum, and her husband Jason Whitman, Ride 2 Recovery program manager for Ohio, manage the facility at Xavier.

 We weren't surprised that Xavier welcomed us with open arms. Without their help, we wouldn't be here.

Project HERO helps veterans cope with the physical and mental distress that often accompanies their return home after active duty. By offering bike rides throughout the state and stationary rides in their facilities, they help keep veterans healthy, active and part of a supportive community. Veterans are encouraged to participate in one of seven Challenge rides nationwide, including a ride from Cincinnati to Nashville, and in Europe. Rides are limited to 200 riders each and sell out quickly.

The Ride 2 Recovery room at the Center for Innovation is small, but it offers a space for veterans to ride indoors using Computrainers. People can hook their own bikes into the trainers, or they can borrow one from the bike room. GE Aviation donated all the bikes, which total more than 16 in the training room, and equipment for the program, such as helmets, shoes and tools for the repair shop. Using a television to simulate a course, riders can practice for races or Challenge rides.

"When the weather is lousy, the room definitely fills up more," says Whitman. "We have mostly local vets, but also people from Cleveland, Dayton and Akron."

At the facility’s opening on Feb. 21, Whitman and Humphrey hosted an indoor cycling event called Pedal 22, where participants rode 22 miles in honor of the average 22 veterans who lose their lives to suicide each day. For Pedal 22, there were 163 rides totaling 3,586 miles.

Some Xavier student veterans are riding at the Ride 2 Recovery center on campus, but the center is also beginning to involve non-veterans. Because Ride 2 Recovery also helps veterans with physical handicaps, the program is partnering with the Center for Innovation to create bikes that are easier to ride.

Air Force veteran Charles McDonald in the R2R room.

"For example, say a veteran is missing a hand,” says Chris Klug, director for the Center for Veterans Affairs at Xavier. “A student could 3-D print an idea for how this veteran would hold on to the handle bars, brake or shift gears, something most of us take for granted.”

This year, Humphrey and Whitman are working with computer science professor Gary Lewandowski and his students to develop plans to build a tandem bike for a paraplegic veteran whose goal is to compete in the Leadville 100.

In the future, Klug hopes to acquire a larger space for Ride 2 Recovery on campus to help even more veterans thrive both physically and mentally. For now, they continue hosting outdoor group rides throughout the state, which are open to everyone.

Humphrey, Whitman and Klug hope that more Xavier veterans take advantage of the facility's convenience and more universities take note.

“We're hoping R2R will serve as a model for other universities that are looking for ways to engage their veteran population," says Klug.

"Xavier supports efforts like this to support our veteran population, and we want to let all veterans know about this wonderful facility. It's a place to talk, exercise and ride a free bike. It's the least we could do, especially since GE does so much for our veterans."

Feature Image: GE Aviation employees test out the bikes during the center's grand opening in February.