There was a time when Jonathan Pruziner thought life as he knew it was over. The Army sergeant's left leg was blown off below the knee by an IED in Iraq in 2007 and as he lay in Walter Reed hospital, Pruziner thought he would never walk again.
"I thought I'd be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life," he said. "I thought the quality of life, it's not going to be there."
But with the support of the Wounded Warrior Project, Pruziner, 23, is not only walking these days, he's running 10-mile races.
The Commack native is also cycling and giving back to the organization by participating in New York's Soldier Ride, which Friday in Babylon started the second segment of a three-day trek from Manhattan to the East End. The Wounded Warrior Project is a national service organization for injured servicemen and women.
"It's just so great to come here and see all your neighbors here supporting you," Pruziner said as he readied for the journey from Babylon's Town Hall in Lindenhurst to Overlook Beach.
Friday morning, under threatening skies, Pruziner and more than two dozen fellow wounded warriors lined up their bikes. Some had leg braces, others prosthetic limbs. Some came with the aid of crutches, others with the help of a friend. Some wounds were invisible to the naked eye. But when the 22-mile ride began, all had the same goal: Show support for those injured while serving the country.
"These guys are coming out newly wounded and doing things they never thought they'd do before," said ex-Marine Nancy Schiliro, 30, of Eastchester. "It really inspires me."
Schiliro was deployed in Iraq in 2005 when a mortar attack caused a severe head injury and the loss of her right eye. She credits the project - where she now works - with lifting her out of a depression and giving her back her life.
The first part of the ride took cyclists from Manhattan to Brooklyn. Saturday's ride continues in Amagansett. So far this year, project spokeswoman Natalia Rankine-Galloway said, the rides, which are continuing nationwide, have raised more than $500,000.
Before the ride, the Town of Babylon gave the group a check for $70,000. Town spokesman Tim Ruggeri said that amount - raised by the town and from ride registration fees and donations from local groups and businesses - would likely climb.
At the Babylon kickoff, the line of wounded warriors was followed by hundreds of other cyclists, ranging from children to seniors. Liz Dell'Accio, 72, of Copiague said she's watched the soldier rides before but decided to finally participate, even though she wasn't sure she would finish. "They're getting neglected," she said of servicemembers. "We owe them a big debt and this is a way to pay it."
After reaching Overlook Beach, Pruziner said he felt tired but invigorated by all the support shown along the way, especially the towels provided by Southside Hospital, which he used to wipe the sweat from the leg attached to his prosthesis.
"That was money," he said. "It was a good ride. I had a beer, tasted some hot dogs and now I'm getting ready to go again."