Mark Gutierrez, a combat veteran, cycled through Tillamook on Thursday, Oct. 17.
After 12 years serving in Navy Special Operations, Gutierrez is cycling across the country to raise awareness and funds for Project Hero, a nonprofit that benefits veterans and first responders struggling with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Gutierrez started in Washington D.C., in mid-May.
After a few combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan as an Explosive Ordinance Disposal Officer, Gutierrez began to exhibit TBI and PTSD symptoms. This put an end to his Naval career.
“I was medically retired with a traumatic brain injury,” Gutierrez said.
He learned about Project Hero while receiving treatment at Walter Reed Hospital and was able to see the impact the organization had on wounded warriors.
“Project Hero helps get guys and gals back on the bike,” Gutierrez said. “I’d like to see that program continue and see where it goes in the future.”
Gutierrez also said Project Hero helps get participants off medications or put on lower doses. Gutierrez would like to see Project Hero’s work continue. He has a lot of friends who are amputees and wants to be there for other people in the future.
After D.C., Gutierrez rode around in the Smokey’s, then went to Denver, through a loop in the Rocky Mountains, and went north to Whitefish, Montana. He took the northern route through the Cascades and went around the Olympic Peninsula.
While Gutierrez is raising awareness and funds for Project Hero, the cross-country tour is very much about saying thank you to those who do so much to keep us safe. In towns along the way, he stops to speak with local police, fire departments, EMTs, and veterans, sharing experiences and thanking them for all they do.
Project Hero, founded in 2008, helps veterans and first responders affected by PTSD, TBI, and injury achieve rehabilitation, recovery, and resilience in the daily lives and increase awareness of the national mental health crisis posed by PTSD and TBI. Since its inception, Project Hero has helped over 10,000 veterans and first responders through building and providing adaptive bikes, community-based HUB programs for veterans and first responders in more than 45 cities throughout the US, multi-day challenge rides, community honor rides, retreats, and research programs.
Gutierrez has done smaller cycling rides in the past that lasted a week to two weeks, but never over 1,000 miles.
The cycling ride will cover almost 5,000 miles and take 5 to 6 months to complete.
One of Gutierrez’s favorite parts about the cycling ride is connecting with first responders in small towns. He said that couple of times he has been able to have breakfast with them and is thankful that they take the time to sit down and share their experiences.
Gutierrez will now be making his way down to San Diego and making small stops along the way and will visit family in San Francisco.
“Keep on moseying down the coast,” Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez hopes to end in San Francisco before Thanksgiving and may go to Central or South America from there.
To follow his progress as he bikes across the country, follow him on Instagram (@vagrantgoot). To donate to his fundraiser, check out the following link: www.tinyurl.com/gutierrezhero