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Valley bike ride Friday for Wounded Warriors

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Dozens of wounded American veterans will be pedaling around the valley for the next two days.

The 42 soldiers were in Scottsdale Thursday getting fitted for bikes that they will use for two 20-mile bike rides. The first one is Friday and will take the riders from the U-Haul headquarters on Central Avenue to the U-Haul house on Tatum Boulevard in Paradise Valley.

The soldiers will ride from Scottsdale to Cave Creek on Saturday.

The rides are sponsored by the Wounded Warrior Project, which helps returning soldiers deal with several problems.

"Among (the problems veterans face) are mental health, physical health and economic empowerment," said Wounded Warrior Director Al Giordano.

He said the ride will reunite soldiers who fought together in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"These young men and women have those bonds from being on that military team," Giordano said. "They're together for two, three, four, five, six eight years. Now, all of a sudden they leave the service. When they go home, there's really nobody around that understands (what they went through.)"

U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Melissa Gonzalez knows all about that. She was wounded in Afghanistan in 2010.

"I was a cop," said Gonzalez. "I was on convoys, and was involved in an improvised explosive device. I injured my ankle and suffered a traumatic brain injury."

Gonzalez even had to re-learn how to speak.

"I had speech problems," she said. "The words that were coming in my head were not coming in my mouth. They were jumbled, so I had to go through speech therapy."

She suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and panic attacks. She has had to undergo several surgeries for her ankle and now she has something else to deal with.

"I'm Catholic, and yet I'm going through a divorce," Gonzalez said. "It was a big change for me. One of the reasons (for the divorce) is that he never understood (what she was going through), even though I explained it to him."

She now has a service dog named Bindy to help her through the day. Bindy underwent one year of training and can now help Gonzalez with things like opening and closing doors, carrying items and just simply being there to help her get through flashbacks and panic attacks.

Gonzalez will be riding a three-wheeled bike and knows many of the soldiers on the ride but is hoping to make new friends.

"I'm excited to build even more bonds with people that I've never even met before," she said.

Giordano said that if you see any of the wounded soldiers riding through the Valley over the next couple of days, be sure to thank them.

"You cannot put a price tag on the value for these young men and women to realize that people care about their sacrifices," he said.

About the Author

Years with the company: I started on January 2, 2006.

Education: I was born in San Antonio, Texas, but we moved to Phoenix when I was one-year-old in 1957. I grew up here and graduated from Alhambra High School and attended Phoenix College.

Family: I live in north Phoenix with my wife Rene' and my son Devin.

Favorite food: Lots of favorite food, but our favorite restaurant is Fajitas.

Favorite spot in Arizona: The Little America Hotel in Flagstaff.

Favorite news memory: We have to go back to October 15, 1979. I was a country music air personality at KROP Radio in Brawley, California, when we had a 6.7 earthquake. Thankfully, there were no deaths and only minor injuries, but the entire community was pretty freaked out and listening to the station on their transistor radios. I would not want to go through an earthquake again, but it sure was a great night to work in radio and see how it can make a difference in people's lives.

First job: Working as a stringer for 'The Arizona Republic' at high school football games. My first real job was flipping burgers at the old Sandy's Hamburgers at 51st Avenue and Indian School Road. My first radio job was as announcer at KALJ radio in Yuma in 1977.

First concert: My Dad took me to see Jimmy Dean at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in the 1960's. It was before the Coliseum was built. The only thing I remember is Jimmy Dean singing his big hit "Big Bad John."

Favorite sports team: Phoenix Roadrunners minor league hockey. My dad took me to a game when I was in grade school, and I was hooked. I wanted to be a radio hockey play-by-play man. I used to take my cassette recorder and sit up in the rafters of the Coliseum and do play-by-play. It was great later in life to also take my son to Roadrunners games. Too bad the team just folded, I'll miss them. (Going to the Coyotes is fun, but they're not "my" team.)

Outside interests: My family and I are active in our church - Shiloh Community Church in Phoenix. Devin is a high school student at Scottsdale Christian Academy. He plays on the baseball, football, and basketball teams and sings in the choir. Obviously, we keep busy trying to go to all his events! We enjoy going to movies, sporting events, and long road trips. We like to vacation at the Beach Cottages in the Pacific Beach area of San Diego. And I love to play catch, basketball, football with my son.


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