The Union Recorder

October 22, 2013

Brothers bike America for veterans

Kyle Collins
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE —

After rescuing his body from diabetes, retired U.S. Navy Senior Chief Michael Schwartz wanted to use a newfound cycling love to raise money for military veterans.

“Three years ago I found out I was a diabetic and started riding a bicycle to lose weight and get back in shape. I starting think about how I could use my bike to help other people. I prayed about it, and the next thing I realized I was going to ride across the country for the Wounded Warrior Project and other veterans,” Michael said.

The Cycling for Warriors fundraiser began Sept. 1 in San Diego, Calif. and ends soon in Jacksonville, Fla. Schwartz and his brother Steve came through Milledgeville last weekend.

The brothers linked up with the Bicycling Club of Milledgeville the Friday before the Deep Roots Festival and visited the second-ever Deep Roots Charity Bike Ride starting at the Central State Hospital Pecan Grove Saturday morning. The Schwartz's toured the Georgia War Veterans Home also.

Schwartz was gracious for a bike club donation to the veterans’ cause.

The nationwide trip is a sponsored event of Freedom's Heart non-profit corporation formed by friends and supporters of the cause. 

The younger of the two siblings never hesitated when he heard the mission. Steve had exercise bike experience, but only just warmed back up to the road six weeks prior to the coast-to-coast ride.

“The first time Michael told me what he was doing I said I wanted to go,” Steve said. “I didn't have a bike or anything.”

The two-month journey also allows two brothers a chance to reconnect.

“We've seen each other probably 30 days in 38 years, and now we've been together for 55 days,” Schwartz said. “It's been interesting getting to know him as a man rather than a little brother.”

Budgeting long distance rides has been a major challenge.

Out west the Schwartz brothers adjusted morning start times due to excessive desert heat. They learned how to ride at night.

“Luckily, our bicycle shop sponsor in California was smart enough to say you are going to need head lights,” the 22-year Navy vet said.

Completing the trip in the fastest time isn't the goal. 

“We aren't out here to race to Jacksonville. We are here to expose Cycling for Warriors, thank veterans and get the word out as much as possible,” Schwartz said. “Like I said, I'll ride 100 miles to talk to 10 people. This is all about educating and reminding people of the service our veterans gave to this country and raising money to help them.”

Every time a veteran could be touched the Schwartz brothers stop.

Memorials, American Legions and veteran's hospitals created lasting memories and stories on all ends of life's spectrum.

“It's been wonderful to see [veteran's] appreciation. We carry an envelope full of letters from eighth-graders that wrote to wounded warriors. Any time I find a veteran that earned a Purple Heart I say, ‘I have a letter for you.’ The reaction is the same every time. They get choked up,” Schwartz said.

The mood varies at every cross-country stop.

Michael said meeting one veteran on an earlier stop with no living friends or family broke his heart.

“You wonder how that person gets out of bed everyday,” Steve said. 

A special deed for an injured San Antonio, Texas veteran that wanted to return to ride his bicycle shows just what these brothers are made of.

Sponsor PT Solutions agreed to manufacture a recumbent bike, which Cycling for Warriors will personally deliver to that hero when the ride ends.

This journey demonstrates military brotherhood is palpable. Most times a simple hug and ‘thank you’ makes a true impact.

“One guy said he was in the service for 40 years, and no one had every thanked him for protecting the country,” Steve said. “When Mike says that to him and gives him a letter from the kids and you see this guy tear up, you know that it may be a small thing, but it does make a difference.”

To follow the progress, donate and learn more about the Cycling for Warriors military friendly mission, visit www.cyclingforwarriors.org.

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