Three thousand miles.
And $27,947 raised.
It was an amazing race for cyclist John Tate and his trusty sidekick Jax, who began a cross-country trek from Oregon on a cold April 20 morning and arrived in Ponte Vedra to 95-plus degree temperatures July 9.
“It was very emotional, riding those last couple of miles, it was hard to believe that I’m actually here,” Tate said after arriving at his destination.
Tate took on the grueling adventure to raise awareness — and money — for K9s for Warriors, the Ponte Vedra-based nonprofit that pairs service dogs with military veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury or Military Sexual Trauma.
“I just wanted the people who work here, and the people they serve, to have a concrete example of some random, regular person, not from a military family, who very much appreciates and supports what they do,” Tate said.
Tate was accompanied on his trip by his loyal companion Jax, who he pulled in a pet trailer behind him. Tate said he couldn’t imagine making the trek without his buddy,
“This is the dog of a lifetime for me, and we go everywhere together,” Tate said. “I wouldn’t do something like this, that takes this long, without him. That would be almost like two dog years of his life, and I’m not going to spend that long away from him.”
The more than 3,000-mile bike ride was no easy feat as Tate and Jax had to deal with hunkering under overpasses in the pouring rain, Jax flipping his trailer upside down and a painful “brain freeze” from a too-quickly consumed chocolate shake. Tate documented his adventures in his blog, “Rolling with Jax,” recounting the highs and lows along the way.
Tate also made time to check out some lesser-known memorials to service members in the many towns he rode through.
“Every little town has people who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country and they have their little memorials tucked away. I started to notice them and seek them out,” he said.
While the trip taught Tate how to achieve goals by just getting through each moment as it happens, he said his most valuable insight came from the people he met along the way.
“I also learned a lot about people and it’s changed the way I will think about people for the rest of my life,” Tate said. “We have all kinds of ways we divide each other up, but I’m going to assume the best about people, because all the way here, people gave me their best. Really, people just carried me all the way here from Oregon. And I couldn’t have done it without the help that I got, and they did it freely and voluntarily, and without me asking.
“And that’s who people are when you meet them one-on-one, and I know that now from experience, and it’s not just an optimistic belief about people.”
K9s for Warriors uses primarily rescue dogs to help veterans acclimate to civilian life after leaving the service. As of June 2019, the nonprofit has assisted 551 warriors and rescued 1,050 dogs. According to the K9s for Warriors’ website, the cost to train and place a service dog is approximately $27,000, which makes the kind of help provided by people like Tate so important to the organization’s mission.
“It just shows the country, not just our local community, is supporting veterans and our effort for rescue dogs to become service animals,” said K9s for Warriors President Brett Simon. “Like [Tate] said, he met so many great people along the way to spread the word, and hopefully it gets out that you can do anything you want to do and help our veterans that are in need.”
Tate’s goal is to raise $30,000, and he said he understands all too well the positive impact a dog can have on a person.
“I’ve had dogs all my life, so I know what a pet dog can do,” Tate said. “It’s fun to work with a dog. They want a mission, they want to do things for you and with you and be part of important stuff. That’s just natural for a dog.”
Simon said he understands a lot of people don’t have the time and/or stamina to do what Tate did, but can still help service members and rescue dogs.
“Spread the word that these service dogs are out there for our veterans, whether it’s K9s for Warriors or other established service dog organizations, and that they need the help and deserve the help,” Simon said.
While Tate is still a little shy of his $30,000 goal, he hopes his story will inspire others to make a contribution.
“I really, really hope people will read about the experience and will be moved to make that donation,” he said.
For more information on K9s for Warriors, go to www.k9sforwarriors.org. To read more about Tate’s experiences during his trip, visit rollingwithjax.com.