Spirit of Central Illinois: Riding for Veterans

TAYLORVILLE, Ill. (WAND) — Mike Parker finds peace on the open road.

"When you're riding, we call it 'wind therapy,'" Parker said. "All of your troubles just seem to go through the air. Some people have therapists. We have wind therapy."

The rural roads surrounding Taylorville are a far cry from the battlefields of the Gulf War. Parker served in the United States Army, working his way up to captain.

"I do know what it's like to be shot at," he said with a soft chuckle.

But the darker side of serving is no laughing matter. Parker deals with varying levels of post-traumatic stress disorder. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates PTSD affects somewhere between 10 to 30 percent of combat veterans.

"When I see things on TV, I'll have flashbacks to when I got shot at," Parker said. "I can remember the people who shot at me. [I can] remember what they smelled like. It brings back memories that are hidden deep."

Those vivid, painful memories are part of the reason D.J. DeVore — a marine veteran himself — is riding to help his brothers and sisters in arms.

"My wife had brought up the idea of service dogs and we researched and researched for six, eight months and we ended up finding This Able Veteran," he said.

In the past four years, the Taylorville VFW Riders have raised more than $100,000 for This Able Veteran, providing the funding needed to train service dogs to help veterans cope with PTSD. This past year alone, the group's benefit ride featured 207 riders and raised $54,000.

"When you come back here and you put your kickstand down and you see everyone has made it back safe, it's an overwhelming feeling," DeVore said.

That's why the Taylorville VFW Riders embody the spirit of central Illinois, giving back to their fellow veterans and their families.

"We send them into harms way," Parker said. "Let's take care of them when they come home."

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