By Team

MARATHON (CBSMiami/Florida Keys News Bureau) — A unique motorcycle riding experience through the Florida Keys is providing welcomed camaraderie, emotional and mental rejuvenation, and dolphin therapy for a group of veterans as part of a Wounded Warrior Project program called Rolling Project Odyssey.

Participants rode across the wide-open span of the Seven Mile Bridge following a Thursday morning interactive dolphin experience at Dolphin Research Center, a nonprofit educational facility on Grassy Key.

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Wounded Warriors enjoy interactive dolphin experience at Dolphin Research Center on Grassy Key. (Courtesy: Florida Keys News Bureau)

At Dolphin Research Center, veterans learned in-water commands, shared flipper shakes and dolphin kisses, and swam with a group of the Atlantic bottlenose mammals.

Retired Master Sgt. Bill Thomas was part of the group, comprised mostly of riders from Florida and Georgia. Thomas served as an airman for the U.S. Air Force and was deployed in Iraq in 2007 and 2008.

Wounded Warriors enjoy interactive dolphin experience at Dolphin Research Center on Grassy Key. (Courtesy: Florida Keys News Bureau)

He said the Keys experience has been remarkable for the veterans and refers to these excursions as mental health workshops, explaining that he has struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We’re all dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. So, being here today certainly brings down the anxiety level, it takes care of the depression,” Thomas said. “We had a couple veterans who were just a little skittish about the water, so we encouraged each other, right?

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“Like, ‘you can do this,’” he said.  “It’s like a challenge, you know, to overcome this fear. And it’s also a learning tool for us.”

Rolling Project Odyssey is part of a larger partnership between Wounded Warrior Project and Harley-Davidson to honor and empower wounded veterans during multi-day mental health workshops such as this, designed to help rejuvenate veterans and navigate the ups and downs of everyday life, often influenced by PTSD.

Wounded Warriors drive through Florida Keys. (Courtesy: Florida Keys News Bureau)

Activities like motorcycle riding and socializing with other veterans provide an opportunity for warriors to connect and expand their support network.

“So, the riding experience with this Rolling Odyssey, riding through the Florida Keys — well, the Florida Keys was on my bucket list — never thought I’d do it on a motorcycle, and just the change of scenery, having water on both sides of you, riding across the Seven Mile Bridge, it’s just, you know, it’s just tremendous,” Thomas said.

The event concluded Friday with a ride back up the Overseas Highway to the South Florida mainland.

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