SPRING HILL — Living up to the military axiom that you never leave a comrade behind, Mike Runyan will take on an arduous trek this weekend to help wounded warriors.
The 60-year-old from Spring Hill will mount his Trek 2.3 model bicycle at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa on Saturday and pedal more than 300 miles to Jacksonville over six days in the first Florida Challenge ride.
The event, which will take the riders on Saturday and Sunday through Pasco and Hernando counties, is part of a national effort, Ride 2 Recovery. The 2-year-old foundation launched in California raises money to aid rehabilitation for the military's wounded.
One of the rehabilitation efforts provides specially built bicycles for veterans who have lost a leg or the use of their legs, Runyan said.
During a preparatory ride on the Suncoast Parkway's bike trail last week, Runyan said he encountered just such a biker who was moving at a rate of 21 mph on his two-wheeler equipped with handlebar propulsion.
Runyan retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1991 after 20 years of service as an in-air plane refueler all over the world. He didn't suffer any injuries himself, but he aims to help others who were less fortunate.
He got involved with the wounded warriors program through his membership in American Legion Post 99 of Brooksville. "I wanted to do more for these guys who have physical and mental challenges from war," Runyan explained.
His personal goal is to raise $3,500 through sponsors of his ambitious ride. Not all of the some 200 participants will bike the entire route.
Runyan accumulated personal leave time from his job as a mental health specialist with the Florida Department of Corrections so he can pedal on for six days.
The Brooksville post and its auxiliary are encouraging residents along the bike route to raise and wave flags as the riders pass by. Said the auxiliary's Mary Perkins: "We're trying to get as many people as possible out on the streets to wave them on."
The local Legion family will host a dinner for the bikers Saturday evening at the Hernando County Senior Citizens Center on Rhanbuoy Road.
Legion members from throughout the state are assisting the challenge in other ways. Legion riders on motorcycles will escort the cyclists throughout the route, serve meals and supply drinking water.
Beth Gray can be reached at gray firstname.lastname@example.org.