By Wendy Victora of Northwest Florida Daily News | Stars and Stripes | Stripes.com | June 18, 2012
A combat-wounded Marine and two other Marine veterans continued their bicycle trek across Northwest Florida on Monday, raising awareness and funds for the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund.
Ben Maenza, a 23-year-old double amputee from Tennessee, is pedaling the entire route with his arms.
“It’s been really interesting, really hot,” said Maenza, taking a lunch break at Gulf Islands National Seashore west of Navarre Beach. “We’ve had people stop us when we’re riding on the road and give us money to put toward the fund.
“Every penny we make is going to make a difference in some way.”
The cyclists left June 10 from St. Augustine and plan to arrive at Marine Base Camp Pendleton in California on Aug. 10. They were escorted by sheriff’s office deputies as they traveled through Walton, Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties. A support vehicle drives ahead of the group, which stops every 15 miles for water.
When they passed through Ponce de Leon Saturday, they took a break to jump in the springs there. A local couple captured it on videotape, posting it to the group’s Facebook page.
“In Ponce de Leon, they were incredible, the most gracious, wonderful people we could ever imagine,” said Steven Mann, who drives the support vehicle. “It was great support, an outpouring of love and understanding.”
Maenza, who was injured Oct. 21, 2010, was medically retired two months ago. He hopes he can inspire people across the country with his effort.
“When I was in the hospital, the Semper Fi Fund did a whole lot for me,” he said. “It took care of me and my family when I needed it the most. I’m able and willing to do something to help.”
Donations can be made by going to www.rideforheroes.stayclassy.org. To find them on Facebook, go to www.facebook.com/SemperFi.RideForHeroes.