NASHVILLE, Tenn. —Titans general manager Ruston Webster, coach Ken Whisenhunt, front office staff, players and cheerleaders on Friday enjoyed giving a sincere and robust welcome to 120 cyclists with the Ride 2 Recovery program.
Ride 2 Recovery conducts several multi-stage bicycle rides across the country in partnership with the military and Veterans Affairs Volunteer Service Office to raise money and awareness for mental and physical rehab programs that benefit wounded veterans. The program's first visit to Saint Thomas Sports Park occurred near the end of "The Bluegrass Challenge," a 450-mile journey that began in Cincinnati and traveled through Kentucky to Fort Campbell and on to its Saturday conclusion in Nashville.
"We're honored that you came by today. Our military is so important to us and our freedom," Whisenhunt said. "We have such great respect for what you do with our families and for our country and we appreciate all the efforts you do to support them in that. All of the people in our building were really excited today to be able to come out here and see you guys. I appreciate all the hard work you put in. We're excited to have a partnership with the military and are looking for great things to keep going forward."
Titans guard Chance Warmack, fullback Collin Mooney, who is a captain in the Army Reserves, and retired franchise great Brad Hopkins, cheerleaders Evony, Kiara and Tandra and Titans mascot T-Rac genuinely welcomed the cyclists and posed for pictures with them.
Several of the participants are wounded veterans who completed the trek with adaptive bicycles provided by Ride 2 Recovery. The program is in its seventh year, and Ride 2 Recovery founder John Wordin said about 80 percent of the riders have a direct connection with the military.
Warmack said he enjoyed meeting the guests and was inspired by their positive approach and what they accomplished on their journey.
"You get a chance to see something special like that, and it does something to you," Warmack said. "It did something to me and carries over to my teammates. This right here motivated me to be a better person and also a better player for my teammates, and hopefully that will carry over to the field."
The Titans' organization welcomed cyclists from Ride 2 Recovery at Saint Thomas Sports Park. (Photos: Gary Glenn, Craig Peters)
Wordin equated the camaraderie formed between the riders during the trip to the type of bond that can be built within a locker room.
"This type of program brings them together, much like a football team. You have that locker room mentality," Wordin said. "We have a similar sort of thing, only outdoors, and for the guys that have been injured, you lose that connectedness. It's like being a former player. Once you're out of the locker room, you're out of the locker room, and you ask any NFL player, 'What is it they miss the most?,' they miss their buddies. So this reconnects them, and now they have buddies for life."
After seeing the camaraderie between the cyclists, Whisenhunt joked about organizing a ride for his team to foster the type of relationship he wants to build with the Titans.
"Whenever you're focused on working together to accomplish a cause or goal, whatever that is, you have the opportunity to form those bonds," Whisenhunt said. "You could obviously see that for the men and women that were here today. As a person who strongly believes in team and working together, it's always great to see that, especially for me, and that's what we're trying to get out of our players and what we're trying to get out of our fans, one big family that creates a great environment for us on Sundays, so this is a little microcosm of that."
Whisenhunt said the Titans enjoyed helping encourage cyclists toward the finish line. "It seems like they were re-energized when they made this pit stop here, and if we contributed to that at all, I think it's awesome. Any kind of support we can give to them in that way," Whisenhunt said. "It was fun for us, it was fun for me to interact with them and see the smiles on their face and talk to these men and women. It's great to provide the opportunity for them to have that stop but it's also great for us to be able to see them."