Many Harley-Davidson motorcycle owners ride a fine line between being old school rock n’ rollers and the kind of folks who don’t mind going out of their way to assist those in need of a little help. This writer’s experience growing up among Harley riders has resulted in my seeing just as many raucous rallies and wet t-shirt contests as charity runs for underprivileged children and fundraisers for breast cancer research. Regarding the latter category, on Sunday, Oct. 24, at 7:00 a.m., Orange Coast Harley Owners Group (OCHOG) will be holding its 10th anniversary Injured Warrior Appreciation Run to raise funds and awareness for veterans. OCHOG members and friends will be meeting at Orange County Harley Davidson, in Irvine, and riding down to Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial, in San Diego.
The origin of the ride is a colorful tale. Back in 2011, Kim Kohlenberger, who was the director of OCHOG at the time, wanted to find a way to show appreciation for the troops – especially military personnel who had been injured or traumatized by their experiences in service of the country. She discovered the Warrior Foundation / Freedom Station, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, in San Diego, which provides a place and community for injured warriors to get the various types of assistance they need to recover and transition back into civilian life. Naturally, the origin story of the Freedom Station is just as colorful as that of the Injured Warrior ride.
In 2004, Sandy Lehmkuhler, a Navy wife of 31 years, was volunteering at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego and found the institution lacking a few specialty items necessary to ensure a decent quality of life for some of the patients. Specifically, she had been talking with a couple of amputees who required special electric razors for shaving. Thus, she went on the radio to ask for donations, and this started the ball rolling. In 2011, right around the time Kim Kohlenberger was looking for an organization to partner with for her charity ride, the first Freedom Station was opened; it provided fully furnished housing, a community of peers, opportunities to participate in sporting teams, and a place for personal healing and preparation for the transition back into civilian life at a reduced rent — as a means for veterans who may have been on active duty the previous week to gradually adapt to the saving, budgeting, and financial responsibilities that await them beyond military life. Furthermore, the foundation provides airfare and hotel rooms for visiting parents, plane tickets for residents to return to their families for the holidays, and a variety of specialized gear for those whose eyes have been damaged, for those who have prosthetic limbs, etc.
During the inaugural year for the Injured Warrior ride, there were 350 bikes with 500 people participating (including injured warriors), and $18,000 was raised for the Warrior Foundation. Since that time, Freedom Station has housed and helped dozens of injured warriors, and helped many of them transition to colleges and vocational schools, establish careers, secure long-term independent housing, start families, and manage ongoing care for their various injuries. In May of 2020, Warrior Foundation opened a new nine-unit property, called Home of the Brave: Freedom Station II. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine veterans currently benefit from these properties.
Chris Mosher is the current director of OCHOG. Mosher, who has ridden motorcycles since he was a kid, explained to Irvine Weekly that he got his first Harley and joined the chapter in 2012. Over the years, he has participated in many Iron Butt rides, which are basically trips that require being in the saddle for at least 1,000 miles a day. For one of their trips, he and other members from the chapter rode up to the Arctic Circle just to see the Arctic Circle sign. His involvement in such extreme rides proved his value to the chapter, and he became an activities officer for OCHOG – which included planning routes for various rides. He then moved up the ranks and has now been director of the chapter for two years. Mosher said that even though Kohlenberger moved to Texas, the Injured Warrior Ride is still very much her legacy.
Over the years, he pointed out how the destinations have changed. “At one point,” he said, “We were able to actually go onto the base at Camp Pendleton, which was pretty phenomenal… We haven’t been able to do that for the last few years. So we’ve gone through several different destinations. Last year, we were able to partner up with Mount Solidad, down in San Diego… It overlooks the entire La Jolla bay area, and there’s a monument up there for service members. Last year was a great event – even with Covid going on – we were able to have a smaller event, and this year we decided to return to Mount Solidad because the location was so fantastic.”
Given ongoing concerns over Covid and its variants, Mosher explained that there will likely still be reduced attendance for this year’s ride. He anticipated that there will be around 200 bikes and 300 people participating this year. He also pointed out that since the ride has been going on, it has raised somewhere in the neighborhood of $800,000 $900,000 for the Warrior Foundation.
The donations which benefit the foundation come from a variety of sources. Orange County Harley Davidson, which Mosher said experienced a change of ownership three years ago, has been extremely supportive to the Injured Warrior ride. For the past couple of years, they have donated a bike to be raffled off, with proceeds to benefit injured warriors. This year, they are donating a 2001 Fat Boy for the event. Raffle tickets are $20, and the drawing will actually be on November 19. Apart from that and the corporate sponsorships that Injured Warrior receives, Mosher pointed out that the event receives a variety of in-kind donations, including from the restaurant association in San Diego, which donates food for the riders. He added, “However anybody in the community can help, we would love it, and we’d love for them to be part of this event or just donate to the Warrior Foundation.”
For more information about the ride itself, visit their website https://injuredwarriorride.com. To learn more about the Warrior Foundation and ways to help injured warriors, visit their site: https://warriorfoundation.org. And for those going: ride safely!