Soldier Ride the Hamptons, which raises money for the Wounded Warrior Project, comes to town on July 18.
The annual cycling event is held in honor of Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter, a Sag Harbor resident who was killed in action on April 22, 2008 in Ramadi, Iraq at 19 years old. That day, Haerter and a fellow fallen comrade helped save the lives of dozens of Marines and Iraqi police.
Open to anyone who wants to participate, Soldier Ride the Hamptons has a 30- and 60-mile route, with both starting at Amagansett Farm on Montauk Highway and looping around Sag Harbor. The 60-mile route then heads to Montauk Point for an out-and-back. Though the rides are open to cyclists of all ages and abilities, supporters looking to complete a shorter route can sign up for two affiliated 5K walks, held in Amagansett and Sag Harbor.
Of course, cheering at the start, the finish line and along the ride route is encouraged. “If I can do all this activity, maybe they’ll think they can do it,” says veteran Col. Itzik Gabai, an amputee who will be riding that day. “Some say that I’m inspiring,” he notes with a humble tone.
An Israeli Army veteran with 25 years of service to his name, Col. Gabai was injured in Lebanon and had to have his left leg amputated below the knee. He returns to Long Island for his second area soldier ride. Instead of starting in Amagansett, he will begin his journey on July 16 in Manhattan and ride across Long Island. “It’s toughest in Manhattan,” he says of the ride. The trip spans three days, with checkpoints in Babylon and the Hamptons. Col. Gabai and his group, which includes wounded Israeli and American soldiers, plan to reach the East End in time to hook up with the participants of Soldier Ride the Hamptons.
The roughly 100-mile ride across Long Island is one of a number of extreme athletic pursuits Col. Gabai has undertaken since his injury. Among his accomplishments is the Transalp mountain bike ride, which spans 625 kilometers and features a 19,000-meter elevation change over seven days. He has also participated in the Yukon River Quest, which is the world’s longest annual canoe and kayak race, spanning 444 miles along the Yukon River in Canada. “I put my injury behind me and stayed running,” Col. Gabai says of his motivation to become involved in extreme sports after retiring from the army. “It was very, very important for me to go on with my life.”
Col. Gabai comes to the Hamptons through the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF). He will head to New York with three other wounded Israel Defense Forces veterans, all of whom will ride alongside wounded U.S. service members and veterans. “[This ride is] special for us because I lost my leg in Lebanon when I was a major, and the story of the soldier from the U.S. is often very similar [even though we] come from a different place,” says Col. Gabai. The group will share experiences and stories as they motivate one another to keep riding.
“[FIDF] asked me to do the Wounded Warrior [ride], and of course I said, ‘Sure I want to ride with them,’” Col. Gabai says. Thanks to donations through such programs as Soldier Ride, which began in the Hamptons but has rides nationally and internationally, the Wounded Warrior Project anticipates that by 2017, the organization will have served 100,000 warriors; with $96 million in benefit entitlements secured for soldiers and their families.
To register for Soldier Ride, visit woundedwarriorproject.org/programs/soldier-ride/community-rides/hamptons.aspx.