"I take responsibility for having put these men and women in harm's way. And I intend to make sure America never forgets these brave soldiers and they get the attention and services they deserve."
With those words the 43rd president of the United States kicked his (Gary Fischer Super Fly) mountain bike into gear and set off into the barren desert of Big Bend, Texas—a place that looks like the moon but feels like the sun. With George W. Bush were 14 service men and women on the W100, a grueling, three-day 100-kilometer ride to highlight the bravery and physical strength of the warriors wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan, as well as those organizations that have made continuing commitments to supporting them.
Most of the veterans were missing an arm or a leg. Most of the injuries were a result of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. To survive this kind of a brutal excursion in perfect health is a challenge few can meet. To do so missing an extremity is astonishing—and an inspiration.
"Some people call me a hero," said seven-time Tour de France winner and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong, who led out the peloton on Wednesday. "But what I have done is nothing compared to the sacrifice of these men and women. They are true heroes."
The W100 was the first event for the George W. Bush Presidential Center’s Social Enterprise Initiative, an effort highlighting those who find innovative ways to improve the lives of others. The desert ride honored those who served the country during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, and celebrated the significant contributions of organizations such as the Challenged Athletes Foundation, Ride 2 Recovery, World T.E.A.M. Sports, and the Wounded Warrior Project.
Riders alongside President Bush include Sgt. Sam Cila, U.S. Army (Ret.), of Riverhead, NY; Sgt. Andy Hatcher, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.), of Alexandria, VA; Sgt. Major Chris Self, Army (Ret.), of Clarksville, TN; Lt. Col. Patty Collins, Army, of Killeen, TX; Cpl. Jon Copsey, USMC (Ret.), of Vista, CA; Col. David Haines, Army, of Louisville, KY; Specialist Carlos Hernandez, Army, of San Antonio, TX; Lt. Col. Marc Hoffmeister, Army, of Fort Richardson, AK; Staff Sgt. Scott Bilyeu, U.S. Air Force (Ret.), of San Antonio, TX; Cpl. Josh Davis, USMC (Ret.), of Vail, AZ; Sgt. First Class Dillon Behr, Army (Ret.), of Arlington, VA; Staff Sgt. Kenny Butler, Army (Ret.), of Barre, VT; Sgt. Bryce Cole, Army (Ret.), of Cypress, TX, and Specialist Jake Lerner, Army (Ret.), of Jacksonville, FL.
Gallery: Wounded Warriors Ride
Sponsors included several companies and individuals that generously contributed their time and resources.
As vice chairman of Hill & Knowlton and Public Strategies, and president of Maverick Media, Mark McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, corporations and causes, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, and Bono. McKinnon is co-founder of No Labels and co-chair of Arts & Labs.