Journey of the heart passes through Socorro

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When Marine Lance Cpl. Ben Maenza came back from Afghanistan in October of 2010, he found himself alone in a hospital, clothes gone, legs removed.

Then the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund stepped in, flying his family in to be with him, buying him essential clothes and providing moral support in the form of a caring individual visiting and talking with him weekly during his hospitalization.

El Defensor Chieftain: Socorro Striders and Riders club member Matt Perini, on bicycle, joins Ride for Heroes Semper Fi Fund riders Ben Maenza, front, and Troy McLehany as they pedal through San Antonio on their way to Socorro.

“This is a genuine non-profit,” Maenza said. “They show up when you need them. Ninety-five percent of the contributions go to the veterans.”

So it was no surprise that when Maenza met a group who intended to cross the country on recumbent tricycles to raise money for the Semper Fi Fund, he insisted on joining them.

The “Ride for Heroes” Maenza joined is the brainchild of John Gerlaugh and Dennis McLaughlin, two longtime friends who, when they saw the movie “Bucket List” decided to develop a bucket list of their own.

“We just threw out ideas,” Gerlaugh said. “And we decided to do the most physically challenging ones first.”

That put riding across the United States on the top of the list, and since they were going to do it anyway, it made sense to do it to raise money for a worthy charity.

After attending an awareness dinner event for the Semper Fi Fund on the USS Intrepid in New York City in 2011, Gerlaugh and McLaughlin were inspired by the severely injured Marines and their families who also attended the event.

“Their attitude is, ‘I’m a full player still,’” Gerlaugh said.

After doing some additional research on the charity, the friends decided to ride for the fund.

Another longtime friend, Troy McLehany, joined in when he heard what they were going to do and, at the 2012 Semper Fi Fund awareness dinner in March, Maenza found out what the plans were and said he wanted to join.

“I had an idea (about how to help the Semper Fi Fund),” Maenza said. “And they had a better idea. It’s a great cause and I am behind it.”

Now into the sixth week of their cross-country journey, the four-man team is taking two-by-two turns on their tricycles and came through Socorro on their Florida to San Diego journey Tuesday, stopping for the night before continuing up through Magdalena.

After 1,700 miles through the southern states in midsummer, the team values its time on and off of the pedals.

The hottest place so far says McLehany, was Boumont, Texas at 126F, and humid to boot.

“New Mexico has been impressive,” he said. “There is so much history in New Mexico.”

The journey has been one of reflection for the four riders as they pedal — Maenza on his hand-pedaled trike — an average of about six hours a day.

McLehany finds all kinds of thoughts going through his mind from daydreams to work, he is a bail bondsman and land developer in Texas.

“It turns into a mental game,” McLehany said. “The mind wanders.”

Gerlaugh uses his on-the-road time for decompression, “untying Freudian knots” and thinking about his relationship with God.

Ruminating on the Boy Scout motto, “Be prepared,” and taking Boy Scout law as a guide for reflection, Gerlaugh has plenty to ponder during the ride.

“A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent,” he said. “As a framework, I can be the guy that aims to live for that.”

The cause keeps the team motivated. Three of them have served as Marines and the fourth, McLaughlin, is the son of a 1940s-era Marine.

“There is nothing that happens in this country that doesn’t ride on the shoulders of guys like Ben,” Gerlaugh said. “They rise and put themselves in danger in a far away place for the very fuzzy notion of democracy and freedom.”

The team will have covered more than 2,700 miles from East to West coast when they are done. So far, more than 300 contributions to the Semper Fi Fund has brought in more than $55,000.

The Ride for Heroes can be followed at facebook.com/semperfi.rideforheroes. For a live tracking view. Donations can be made at www.rideforheroes.stayclassy.org.