Miami bike ride brings attention to disabled vets

Disabled Iraq War veteran Andy Butterworth hugged his quilt made with patches of dark blue and American flags last Thursday.

For Butterworth, 29, who lost his right leg in 2004 when a rocket-propelled grenade landed near his Army unit, the quilt and thank-you cards from a group of seventh-grade students reminded him that his service to the country as a soldier was not in vain.

“It means a lot. It’s kind of hard to describe,” he said. “It’s just good to know someone’s thinking about you.”

Butterworth of Jacksonville was one of 22 bike riders wearing royal blue shirts Thursday morning as they rode 7 miles from Ocean Drive in South Beach to Miami’s Bruce W. Carter Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Sixteen were missing a limb.

The goal: to motivate wounded veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and raise awareness of the need for community support of disabled veterans as part of the Wounded Warrior Project.

Friends and older veterans at the VA hospital met the 22 veterans, who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, for the Wounded Warrior Project’s fourth Soldier Ride in Miami. The last stop was Saturday in Key West. “It’s been a life-saving event,” said Woody Groton, the organization’s national tour director.

He said the organization has held eight Soldier Rides this year.

The Quilts of Valor Foundation offered the quilts to welcome the young veterans.

Korea veteran Billy Green and Vietnam veteran Kenneth Sampson, both VA hospital volunteers, said it’s an event where old and young veterans can bond.

“Emotionally, they can cry, cry in joy,” said Sampson, who clutched an American flag. “I stood here and cried with these guys.”