Man Bikes 3500 Miles to Get Service Dogs for Vets in Need
His dog made a big difference in his life, so he decided to do something big to call attention to the need.
Army veteran Jimmy Thomas says his legs "felt like they had blocks on them" when he finished his 35-hundred mile bicycle ride across the United States. But his heart must have felt full and happy! His cross-country trek raised more than $200,000 for the organization Mountains to Miracles Veterans Foundation and their Woofs for Warriors program which provides veterans experiencing problems like Post-Traumatic Stress with service dogs.
Thomas, 58, knows how much of a difference a service dog can make. He was suffering from bipolar disorder and seizures when he adopted Boots, a golden retriever, provided by Woofs for Warriors. When he found out how much the dogs cost (up to $50,000) and that VA insurance doesn't cover the cost of training or all of the expenses of owning a service dog, he came up with the idea of the fundraiser bike ride, which he started in June in Oregon, above (see how excited Boots was when he and Thomas were reunited at the end of the ride!):
Thomas told Bicycling that he's a competitive runner, but didn't train much on the bike before he started. "At first it was terrible because I was out of shape," he told Bicycling. That kept him to only about 40 miles a day for the first third of the trip. It took me forever to get used to the seat," he said. By the end of the 70-day trip, which finished at the VA Medical Center in Albany, New York, he was averaging 80-90 miles a day.
In Caspar WY. Hilton gave Jimmy 5 nights' break from camping! Woofs For Warriors Facebook page
He camped with a few hotel nights in between. Sometimes he ate in restaurants, where, he told his hometown paper the Ballston Spa Daily Gazette, people would jockey to pay for his meal once they realized what he was doing -- then donate once they heard the bill was covered!
"The people I met were just amazing,"
Sharing a family's picnic at Harrison Lake State Park in OH. Woofs For Warriors Facebook page
Thomas believes the number of suicides among vets and active duty troops (some statistics show at least 20 a day) wouldn't be as high if vets had an easier time getting service dogs. He's already planning an extended kayaking trip from Cobleskill, NY to the Chesapeake Bay to raise funds for the organization again next year.
Even though Thomas' ride is done, there's still time for you to help. You can donate to Woofs for Warriors through their website (click here), or by mail at:
Woofs for Warriors, Inc.
P.O. Box 2466
Glens Falls, N.Y. 12801