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Wounded Warrior benefit bike ride rolls on

British army veteran Brian Phillips secures his helmet

British army veteran Brian Phillips secures his helmet before the start of the annual Town of Babylon and Wounded Warrior Soldier Ride. (July 19, 2013) Credit: Steve Pfost

By 9 a.m. Friday, rising temperatures had reached the mid-80s, but that only fanned the enthusiasm of the crowd outside Babylon Town Hall.

More than 1,000 cyclists and hundreds of spectators came out for the Wounded Warrior Project's sixth annual Babylon Soldier Ride.

"People asked, 'Do you want to cancel the ride?' . . . I said, 'As long as these wounded warriors are riding, we will ride with them,' " Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone told the crowd during the opening ceremony.

Military personnel and civilians mirrored the sentiment, offering support to what project spokesman Pete Cataldo described as an organization that provides 19 economic, social and health services to 34,000 injured service members nationwide.

"It's such a great cause . . . It's hot, but what keeps us motivated is seeing these veterans and what they've gone through," said Carole Polney, 44, of West Babylon, a first-time participant.

The fundraising bike ride began about 9:40 a.m. Led by 42 wounded servicemen and -women, some of whom used special equipment, the group traveled 25 miles, ending at Overlook Beach, where they were met with cheers and a barbecue picnic.

Because of the heat, the town enlisted each of its 11 volunteer fire departments, as well as such organizations as the American Red Cross, Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center and North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System. They manned rest stops and water stations scattered along the route; and medical and air-conditioned tents were set up at Overlook Beach, said Patrick Farrell, the town's deputy commissioner for public health.

Two people needed to be treated for heat exhaustion on the route, Farrell added. Two years ago, scorching temperatures also affected bike riders as two dozen participants needed medical attention for heat-related ailments.

At the finish line, many participants said they found the supportive crowd to be a great motivator despite the humidity. Service members said the encouragement was overwhelming.

"The support out here in Long Island is just absolutely amazing," said Joe Frank, 27, a Valley Stream native who served with the Navy from 2003 to 2009 and suffered a nonmilitary injury when he was hit by a car in 2007. "Whenever you turned the corner, there was a little kid holding an American flag, or a family cheering us on. It's just absolutely outstanding."

Half of this year's proceeds will go to the Town of Babylon Chiefs Association Hurricane Relief Fund. By Friday morning, the event had raised $105,000, not including the money raised from the several hundred participants who registered the day of the ride.

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