Adventure cycling program helps local veterans with recovery

TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) – Many veterans in our community silently struggle with things like addiction and Post Traumatic Stress. There are a number of programs to help them, and you can now add one more to the list in Lucas County.

It’s called Miles of Freedom. It’s described as adventure cycling for recovery.

Justin Held is the founder. He struggled with alcohol addiction for more than twenty years. He says at times he was drinking a case of beer a day. Justin has been sober for nearly three years, and he’s turned his love of biking into a way to help others.

“It just gives me purpose and once you have a purpose, you’re on the road to recovery. When I get up in the morning, I am not thinking about alcohol.”

The bikepacking program helps veterans heal from things like addiction and PTS alongside others who understand their challenges and struggles. Bikepacking is described as all-terrain cycling with camping gear. Miles of Freedom kicks off in April and runs through September.

Held says the vets will start with rides of 20-30 miles in a day and build up to overnight trips that cover hundreds of miles and multiple days.

“Bicycle chains are made up of links that work together to move the bike forward. Our program helps veterans feel supported and heal together out on the trails.”

The equipment for the cycling adventures is all provided to the veterans. Justin says at the end of the program, the vets get to keep the bikes.

“The Lucas County Veterans Service Commission sponsors the program. We have also gotten incredible help from the community, friends and family. They all know my mission, and they’re about being a part of it. They see what adventure cycling has done for me, and they are excited to see what it can do for veterans who are facing challenges. I am so excited to give back and help people changes their lives through cycling like I did.”

CJ Burnette is part of the program.

“It’s about more than logging miles on bikes,” Burnette said. “Getting together, planning the routes, the brotherhood and connection is so powerful. And then getting out in nature and hearing the birds and feeling the wind on your face, that’s great, too.”

Burnette served back-to-back deployments in Afghanistan with the US Navy starting in 2014. He’s now a firefighter and paramedic in Oregon.

“They say when biking, you use right and left brain because of balance. It’s good for your physical and mental health.”

He wants other vets to share in those same benefits.

“When you’re having a bad day you get on a bike and clear your mind. It seems like all your problems fizzle out.”

The program will end with a ride from Pittsburgh to Washington DC.

Miles of Freedom is only in Lucas County now, but the hope is to expand it to other counties in the area at some point. It is for both men and women.

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