Navy veteran cycles to raise awareness for veteran suicides

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WITN) – A longtime Navy veteran has been cycling every November from Virginia to North Carolina to bring awareness to veteran suicides around the world.

The cyclist’s annual ride happens over the course of several days and raises money in the process.

Tuesday, seven-year Navy veteran Jake Welch made his final stop in Jacksonville.

The 36-year-old rode more than 425 miles in four days from Springfield, Virginia all the way to the Hope for the Warriors office in Jacksonville.

Welch has taken on the challenge of cycling hundreds of miles over the last several years. In fact, in 2021, he rode more than 8,000 miles and raised $1,800.

This year, he topped that number with about $3,200 raised.

The money from his ride goes directly to Hope for the Warriors, which provides behavioral health care services to post-9/11 veterans and active-duty service members with a TRICARE referral.

Welch and his wife have both served, which is why he says the ride means so much.

“We’re both very supportive of our fellow veterans and active duty members. We’ve seen the struggle, we’re lucky enough to not have had to go through any massive situations that would lead us to have to need help from different organizations but that’s a luckiness that we have,” Welch said. “It doesn’t mean that it’s normal and I know there’s plenty of people out there that are needing support.”

During his ride last year, Welch says he rode 22 miles a day to represent a suicide rate among veterans which is 22 lives a day. Over the course of his entire journey, that added up to 8,030 miles.

While thousands of dollars have been raised, Welch doesn’t want any credit.

“I never really think about the amount of money that I raise as like a great thing,” Welch said. “Every dollar that comes in is wonderful, but I don’t know if I could ever raise enough money in my lifetime to justify stopping.”

Former U.S. Marine Lee Bonar says it means a lot to see what Welch is doing.

“Veteran to veteran, every pedal that Jake made is just like being back in the ranks when we served. It’s just that dedication to service and the DNA we have as veterans coming into the military to serve a greater purpose,” Bonar said. “I’m retired and Jake’s out but we continue that service because it’s in our DNA to continue to be productive citizens.”

Since its inception, Hope for the Warriors has served more than 40,000 service members, veterans, and military families.

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