By Richard Rhinehart
Holbrook, New York, August 1, 2013 – Recognizing the exceptional sacrifices members of America’s military have made in the line of duty, United States Marine Corps Major Jennifer Marino will ride her bicycle across North America beginning this month to seek out gold star families from coast to coast.
Retiring from her service after 15 years, Marino sets off from Camp Pendleton, California on August 10 for a 77-day journey that is scheduled to end October 25 at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia. Marino is dedicating her Gold Star Ride to those who have fallen in service.
“I wanted this ride to be about something more than just my own personal sense of accomplishment,” said the Colorado native, who served two tours in Iraq. “Simply saying the ride was to honor fallen heroes didn’t really seem to have a true impact, so I wanted to connect the project with military families in some way.”
“I met a gold star mother who told me that her greatest fear is that her son’s memory will be forgotten, and I wondered how many other gold star family members feel that way. I wondered if any of them would be willing to share their stories with me if I visited them along my journey,” said Marino.
One gold star mother, Kathy Hanley, introduced Marino to the non-profit American Gold Star Mothers organization. Explaining her idea for a ride, the organization was supportive, allowing Marino to reach out to individual members. “As I meet with these families along my way, I hope to learn a little about their fallen heroes through interviews of appreciative remembrance. I want to know who their sons and daughters were in life, and share their stories with the world.”
Deciding to ride her bicycle across country was personal for Marino, who served as a helicopter pilot in the Marines with World T.E.A.M. Sports Chief Operations Officer Van Brinson. “I love to ride and was inspired by his [2010 Sea to Shining Sea] ride, especially with its connection to wounded warriors. I wanted to ride my bike across the country to celebrate my retirement and give myself some time to think and mentally prepare for what comes next. I also wanted to dedicate my ride to our fallen heroes-men and women who paid the ultimate price for our freedom, and who, as a result, will never have the opportunity to cross things off of their own bucket lists.”
“We at World T.E.A.M. Sports applaud the efforts of Major Marino,” said Brinson. “Her endeavor will bring some attention to the silent heroes of the US Military, the family members. These are the people who are left to carry on as their son or daughter is forward deployed in harm’s way.”
Marino will begin her duties as the Executive Director of the Boulder Crest Retreat for Military, Veteran, and Family Wellness in Bluemont, Virginia once her journey is complete. The rural, non-profit retreat for seriously wounded veterans and their families opens in September. In addition, she has hopes of putting her stories together into a book of her ride and her visits with mothers and families.
During her journey, Marino will be accompanied by her own mother, who will provide support with an accompanying support vehicle and by gold star mothers and families. “I love partner riders, and I will be happy to have people join me along the way,” Marino said, noting that riders wanting to participate for a day should contact her through her website or Facebook page to meet her at a daily starting point along the 17 state route.
Marino’s Gold Star Ride website will launch in the coming days, and will feature information about the ride, reports and photographs, and an opportunity to provide donations. Working with American Gold Star Mothers, all donations are tax-deductible, with the funds applied to ride logistics. Any remaining funds will be donated to the non-profit organization. “This ride is about honoring sacrifice and celebrating lives,” Marino said.
Richard Rhinehart serves as Director of Communications for World T.E.A.M. Sports.