Soldier Ride, a homegrown effort to raise money for wounded veterans that took root in conversations at the Stephen Talkhouse nightclub in Amagansett and has grown into an international initiative sponsored by the Wounded Warrior Project, sees its 10th anniversary next summer, and by then, it is hoped, a documentary tracing its extraordinary growth and impact will be ready for its premiere.
Chris Carney, a personal trainer and owner of Railroad Avenue Fitness in East Hampton, was working as a bartender at the Talkhouse in 2004 when he decided he wanted to do something to help returning veterans. Supported by friends and colleagues, he took a solo coast-to-coast bike trip to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit dedicated to veterans’ causes. Beginning in Montauk, where he dipped his bicycle wheel in the Atlantic, he rode over 5,000 miles and raised over $1 million, ending with a dip in the Pacific Ocean.
Mr. Carney, Nick Kraus — an East Hampton resident who is working on the documentary with Matt Hindra, a film producer and editor with a Wainscott business called Color Bar Video Productions — and Peter Honerkamp, an owner of the Talkhouse, have joined with numerous other local residents to organize and support what became a lasting entity sponsoring annual rides.
The cross-country rides evolved into a series of regional rides, and the project expanded internationally in 2010 to include annual trips in countries such as Israel, the United Kingdom, and Germany, with soldiers from those countries participating.
“It changed my life, really,” said Mr. Kraus. He used a video camera given to him by an uncle who was a documentary filmmaker to begin taking footage of the first Soldier Ride trip, he said, meeting up with Mr. Carney at various points along the way. “And of course, it never stopped.”
In 2005, Mr. Carney rode cross-country again, this time with Staff Sgt. Heath Calhoun, a double-leg amputee, and Staff Sgt. Ryan Kelly, a single-leg amputee.
Mr. Kraus “basically just logged the daily ritual, and everything that happened along the way,” ending up with hundreds of hours of video.
After a Soldier Ride in Israel in 2010, Mr. Kraus contacted Mr. Hindra, a high school friend, to talk about the video footage. “We decided that this needed to be seen,” Mr. Hindra said. They created an 8 to 10-minute video. The next year, Mr. Hindra went along on international rides in England and in France, “to sort of do a travelogue for the guys on the trip.”
The documentary will tell the whole story of the organization, but centers particularly on Mr. Calhoun and Mr. Kelly. Follow-up interviews illustrate, Mr. Hindra said, “how they’re still giving back to their communities.”
Following a yearlong recovery after being injured in Iraq in 2003, Mr. Kelly, who received several medals for his service, became involved in Wounded Warrior Project’s legislative efforts for disabled veterans, a member of the group’s board of directors, and a spokesman. He flies an air medical helicopter in Texas.
Mr. Calhoun lost both legs above the knees following an injury in 2003, and completed the 4,200-mile national Soldier Ride in 2005 using a hand-cycle.
After learning to use new prosthetics, he was able to walk independently, and has not used a wheelchair since 2006. He became a member of the United States Paralympic Ski Team, and, holding the U.S. flag, led Team U.S.A. into the arena for the opening ceremonies of the 2010 games. He is now training for the 2014 games in Sochi, Russia, and continues to dedicate time to meeting with other wounded service members at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and other military hospitals.
A clip from one of Soldier Ride’s stops at the White House is included in a trailer for the film.
“The reason I ask this group to stop by every year is because this is one of the most inspiring events that we have here at the White House,” President Obama said during a ceremony last year on the White House lawn, attended by more than 200 members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, along with Soldier Ride bikers.
“I have to say, it’s better than most ideas that come out of bars. At least that’s been my experience,” the President joked.
“It’s now really a global thing,” Mr. Kraus said this week. “Thousands of warriors are affected by this.” The program, he said, “has changed how wounded vets are treated when they return,” a marked difference since the Vietnam era, when returning veterans faced criticism from anti-war activists. “Politics aside,” said Mr. Kraus, “they’re there to protect us, and they paid a huge sacrifice.”
A decade after Soldier Ride was founded, “every day someone gets injured or dies,” Mr. Hindra said. The film, he hopes, will inform those just returning from war that there is an organization to which they can turn, and “will show them that you, too, can start something from the ground up, and flourish.”
“The sheer determination of these guys to bike across America. . . . They sort of just went into it and didn’t know if they would make it. The routine of doing it helped them heal somehow.”
The film, he said, documents how “every day they spend a little more time together,” and the way the riders pulled together to deal with issues, such as accidents or bicycle breakdowns.
East Hampton’s organizers are directly involved in the rides here, in Miami, and in Boston. Participating wounded soldiers, once about 25 on each trip, have doubled, Mr. Kraus said.
This year’s local ride will begin on July 18 and end in Amagansett on July 20. Soldier Ride the Hamptons is dedicated to Lance Cpl. Jordan C. Haerter, a Sag Harbor native who was killed in action in 2008 and was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism in saving the lives of more than 33 others.
A launch party for the film will be held at the Talkhouse at 6 p.m. on June 22. A 30-day fund-raising campaign on kickstarter.com will begin then as well.
The $60,000 the filmmakers hope to raise through Kickstarter will enable them to complete filming and edit the movie. Distribution efforts will require additional fund-raising.
So far, Mr. Kraus has dug into his own pockets, putting more than $10,000 toward the project. LTV, the East Hampton cable access station, is accepting tax-deductible contributions for the film.
Local screenings are planned for next year during the anniversary of Soldier Ride, and the filmmakers have approached the Public Broadcasting Service and HBO about showings.
“The thing that always amazes me, traveling with or interviewing these guys, is really their resilience. And that’s what I hope the film shows,” Mr. Hindra said.
“The film is hysterically funny at times,” Mr. Hindra said, despite the gravity of its subjects’ injuries and the challenges they face. “It’s just amazing to me how their spirits are so great.”
The film trailer concludes with a quote: “A journey is best measured in friends, not in miles.”
“It’s just amazing,” Mr. Kraus said of the decade-old Soldier Ride project. “It came up . . . sort of a novel idea at the time, and a great summer. I’m sorry that the need is there, but I’m glad that we’re there to fill it.”