When Alonso Flores started a serious cycling routine about two years ago, he was totally on his own. Rousting himself out of bed at 0-dark-thirty to get into his gear and hit the road was a chore. And try telling your young family that you're dragging at the end of the day because you got up to ride a bike at 4 in the morning.
It wasn't easy.
But during a family cycling event sponsored by his home town of Yuma, Arizona, Flores met some riders that would change his life — and give him a sense a purpose he hadn't had riding on his own.
"Now I feel like I'm part of something bigger than myself," Flores said.
It was during that get together that Flores bumped into two other riders who were part of the veteran outreach group Team Red, White & Blue, a national non-profit whose mission is to enrich the lives of America's veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.
Team RWB is focused on bridging the civilian-military divide through a shared interest in physical activity like running, hiking, CrossFit workouts, and yoga classes, along with participating in social and service-oriented events. And that's how Flores, a 41-year-old heavy machine repair technician and civilian, got involved.
Spread across 199 chapters all over the world, the 110,000-member veteran's group established in 2010 is geared toward creating a place for former servicemembers to meet and do a little PT — and invite their friends and family along to join them.
So Flores teamed up with his newly-minted cycling friends at Team RWB and started biking with them three times per week — waking at 4 AM, meeting at a coffee shop, riding 20 or so miles and chilling over a hot cup of mocha when the ride is done.
"Team RWB brings great teamwork. Before I met them I was riding by myself 20 miles a day," Flores said. "Now I'm doing the same thing, but I feel like I have a purpose."
Flores and his team biked over 100 miles across the Arizona desert in support of Team RWB's Old Glory Relay. (Photo from Team RWB)
For the third year in a row, Team RWB has sponsored its so-called "Old Glory Relay" — a cross country run-and-bike relay carrying an American flag from Seattle, Washington, to Tampa, Florida. Organizers say it's intended to connect the Team RWB chapters and its veterans and friends with the communities they live in.
So when Team RWB was coming through Yuma for this year's Old Glory Relay, Flores jumped at the chance to help. He and a couple other teammates helped carry the flag on the non-running parts of the trip between Yuma and Gilabend, Arizona — over 100 miles — in one day.
And while Flores didn't carry the flag the entire 116 miles of his relay leg, the 47 miles he rode with the Stars and Stripes on his bike gave him a lasting impression of the country he's come to love and those who've served to keep him free.
"I came here from Mexico when I was 11 years," Flores said. "People always ask me if I miss Mexico and I tell them that I don't know any other country than this one. And carrying the flag in the Old Glory Relay put an exclamation point on that."
In fact, Team RWB has become a big part of Flores family's life as well. He's started bringing his 10-year-old daughter and wife along on Wednesday evening fun runs where other kids and parents do a little PT and come together later for dinner and companionship. And even though Flores didn't have any military experience, that hasn't stopped his new vet friends from counting him as one of their own.
"It's just a great organization. I see that Team RWB shirt and I know what it's all about," Flores said. "Even if I don't know the person, I know what Team RWB means and that I'm part of something bigger."
There are many ways to get involved with Team Red, White & Blue and the Old Glory Relay, so check out their website to get more information – or text 'OGR' to 41444 to learn more and donate! You can track the flag on its journey across America at the OGR Live tracking page.