There’s nothing quite like the therapeutic freedom of motorcycling down a lonely back road that stretches into infinity—and no one knows this better than film producer, Army Airborne veteran and founder of the Veterans Charity Ride, “Indian Dave” Frey.
“I was born in a motorcycle shop,” says Frey. “There’s something about getting on a bike and the open road, it clears your head. Piloting that machine with a big beautiful V-Twin beneath you is very therapeutic.”
Motorcycling runs in Frey’s family but it wasn’t until 30 years after his service in the Army that he realized motorcycling had the power to save the lives of wounded veterans. And it’s not just anecdotal evidence; studies have shown that riding motorcycles has numerous mental health benefits in addition to a physical workout (motorcycling generally burns around 200-300 calories per hour).
While the concept of motorcycle therapy has gained recent scientific recognition, ask any motorcyclist and they’ll tell you what motorcyclists have always known—it’s the exhilarating sense of freedom they love the most.
Author and Army veteran Robert Pirsig knew it too. In his seminal and iconic book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, he wrote, “On a cycle, the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.”
It’s this “sense of presence” that Frey means when he says that motorcycling allows veterans to embrace their trauma, tell their stories and work toward becoming whole again.
The Veterans Charity Ride
In 2014, while Frey was riding solo to the legendary annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis on his Indian Chieftain, he met fellow Army Paratrooper veteran Johnny Reno. After talking about their shared experiences, the conversation turned to current veterans and the immense struggle many of them have in dealing with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI), and so much more. It was on this ride that the seed for the Veterans Charity Ride (VCR) was planted.
“When I returned from Sturgis, I approached my partner, Emmy award-winning producer Robert Manciero, about doing motorcycle rides for wounded veterans as a form of therapy and filming the experience,” says Frey. “I said, let’s get veterans out of the house on the open road, and get them living again.”
And get them living is exactly what they did. Along with his partner, his wife and numerous volunteers, Frey has since helped hundreds of veterans and expanded his program nationwide with Veterans Charity Ride USA.
Frey’s wife, Sue, is the program director for VCR. She noticed an immediate and positive change in her husband after he began VCR.
“From the moment he dreamed up VCR and started putting his ideas into action I saw his purpose and passion re-ignited,” says Sue. “He’s always had a huge heart and has helped so many people, but working on a daily basis with veterans and watching them heal and grow has given him his most important role yet.”
Veterans Charity Ride connects wounded veterans through the shared transformative experience of the open road. Frey says that his greatest gift is seeing veterans break through barriers and experience the passion they once knew. VCR follows up with a program that focuses on assisting veterans to lead a healthy and successful life through mentoring and wellness nutrition.
‘They Are Not Alone’
Military service members are trained to conceal, not reveal. And while that may serve well in a time of war, it does not translate to civilian life. Many veterans live their lives in seclusion, which can have devastating results. A recent comprehensive VA study found that since 2001 the risk of suicide is 21% greater for veterans than non-veterans. Frey and his mighty band of volunteers are working to turn the tide by providing an outlet for wounded veterans to untether from their trauma and share their stories, thereby breaking through that barrier of deadly silence and isolation.
Says Frey, “Many veterans believe that they are forgotten and cast aside, we show them America truly cares by stopping in big and small towns and the public comes out to greet and acknowledge their sacrifice and they know they are not alone.”
Fledgling non-profits rarely survive their first couple of years and competition for corporate sponsorship is fierce. Frey says his relationship with Indian Motorcycle started with a simple phone call and meeting with Steve Menneto, President of Indian Motorcycle and Polaris Industries.
“Indian Motorcycles has been a driving force and true partner,” says Frey. “Steve is actively involved and rides with us. Steve spent three days with us last year, getting to know the guys and gals, and seeing our program first hand. He gets it and supports us, our program and all the veterans 100 percent. We are lucky to have such a friend, partner and supporter. Like us, Indian is in this for the long haul.”
“Appreciation and support for our military and our veterans is core to the Indian Motorcycle brand,” says Menneto. “The success of the program was clear to us in Sturgis last year as these brave men and women rolled in to town. Helping our veterans after serious physical and mental injuries is an important cause, and we’re proud of offer our continued involvement and support. We look forward to the positive effects and results of this program year after year.”
Frey has similar praise for Craig Arrojo, president of Champion Sidecar. VCR works very closely with him and his team to design and enhance the sidecars to give the veterans the utmost in comfort and style as they experience the joy of riding. Champion does all this and more for free. VCR has donated six Champion Sidecars, as well as a custom-built trike for veteran Marine Corps amputee Sean Carroll, and plans for more sidecars and trikes are in the pipeline.
For more information on the Veterans Charity Ride and for ways to assist and donate, Frey recommends visiting the Veterans Charity Ride website.