For VA employee and Veteran Eric Detrick, Feb. 11 began as a brisk Sunday under sunny blue skies – the perfect day for a 100-mile bike ride through California’s Coachella Valley known as the Tour de Palm Springs.
However, around mile 30, events took a turn that would leave Detrick emotionally shaken.
Detrick and two fellow Veterans Tom McMillen and Raul Portal were riding with Project Hero, a national non-profit therapeutic cycling program for Veterans and first responders when they came upon an accident (pictured above) where a driver lost control of his vehicle and collided with two cyclists. The group immediately rendered aid to the more seriously injured cyclist.
An Army medic who served two tours in Afghanistan, Detrick realized one of the cyclists wasn’t getting enough air, so he created an intubation tube from the hose of another cyclist’s hydration pack. Unfortunately, the cyclist’s injuries proved to be too extensive and later died at the scene.
For Detrick, who has been diagnosed with PTSD, the events of the day took an emotional toll, resurfacing memories he’d rather forget of his time in Afghanistan. After being relieved by first responders, Detrick and his group resumed their ride, where they processed the emotions of the day and their past experiences.
“I love being on the bike. It’s a good way to challenge yourself and know that you can overcome something,” said Detrick. “I also love riding with other people. It’s kind of like a squad or a platoon mentality that you have in the military where you don’t leave anyone behind. We all do the same ride and we all get through it together just like in the service.”
Project Hero partners with VA’s Office of Suicide Prevention and has been working closely with VA medical centers nationwide to integrate a range of support. Project Hero programs focus on five areas — rehabilitation, employment, education, family support, and community service.
“I like that cycling keeps my mind active and not so much on the past,” said Detrick. “We rode 85 miles that day. It was much needed.”
To find a Project Hero Hub Center, please visit https://projecthero.org/find-a-hub.