Sgt. Miguel Antia, a U.S. Army Airborne Ranger whose body is peppered with seven gunshot wounds from a 2005 attack in Iraq, survived that incident only to find himself suffering from a debilitating disease he contracted while fighting in South America last year.
Antia has spent the last five months at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, battling Leishmaniasis, a disease that causes sores on the flesh and nearly paralyzed him permanently. Bedridden until the last couple of months, Antia has since undergone a speedy and somewhat miraculous recovery, leaving him strong enough to participate in a 20-mile bike ride through Baltimore today designed to help other injured veterans.
"I volunteered to do this ride because it is taking care of our own," Antia said. "It helps our morale. If your morale goes down, then everything else goes south."
Antia and more than 30 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will ride bikes for three days in Maryland to raise awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit organization that provides services to those injured in combat.
The cyclists departed from Under Armour Headquarters in Baltimore about noon for a three-hour ride, followed by trips from Andrews Airforce Base and Annapolis the next two days.
Several of the participants lost limbs during the wars and will be provided the adaptive equipment necessary to bicycle.
The project is in its seventh year, switching from cross-country rides the first three years to regional routes since 2007.
Vice President Joe Biden kicked off this year's tour, welcoming the veterans at the White House Wednesday before they rode through the streets of Washington, amid applause from onlookers.
"We do it to assist the warriors in their rehabilitation," said Steve Nardizzi, Executive Director of the Wounded Warrior Project. "It gives them the opportunity to get out of the hospital and see that they can be physically active again."
The route will take the riders from the Inner Harbor to Fells Point, up through East Baltimore, Lake Montebello, Waverly and back downtown.
This is Antia's first time participating, and he said he plans to use some of his vacation after he returns to duty to volunteer in future rides.
"I feel great," said Antia, originally from Greenwich, Conn. "Everybody helps each other, push up hills. The support we get, it's good."