Veteran support group encourages fitness at Rec Center

Kent State ROTC members carry flags as a closing ceremony for the Wheels for Change event in the Student Recreation and Wellness Center on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. Wheels for Change supports veterans by giving them bikes for transportation and providing fitness opportunities.

Troy Lee

The national anthem was sang, echoing in the silence of the Kent State Student Recreation and Wellness Center’s southern basketball court, while the audience and the posted colors stood still Saturday afternoon.

Applause sounded as Michelle Wisnewski’s rendition of the country’s anthem concluded. The applause was not only for Wisnewski’s voice, but also for the celebration of this event’s target — veterans.

The non-profit organization Wheels4Change, based out of Fairlawn, held a fundraiser to encourage awareness and fitness for military veterans. This year was the fourth year it has been held at Kent State’s campus.

Wheels4Change was created when founder Cassie Schumacher saw the Ohio Veteran’s Memorial Park in Clinton. Having a veteran father herself, Schumacher knew she wanted to help.

“This is to give outreach to veterans,” Schumacher said. “(And) to honor those who have been killed in combat, as well as those who are living and served.”

When it originally started, Wheels4Change hosted the fundraiser in 10 smaller locations. LifeCenter Plus, a smaller venue in Hudson, served as the host location. Jerry Lynch, a spin instructor at LifeCenter Plus and one of the organization’s six board members, agreed with Schumacher’s sentiment.

“Veterans are struggling,” Lynch said. “I’m not a veteran, but I see the need for veteran help just in the community.”

With around 50 people in attendance, both veterans and supporters shared in fitness training and camaraderie.

Veteran Mike Strahle found out about the organization while in its infancy in 2012. Schumacher invited him to attend because of his work efforts with The Eyes of Freedom Memorial.

“I was in a spot where I was putting on the L.Bs,” Strahle said. “This event has helped get me healthy and continue on an active lifestyle. When you’re a marine, you’re in great shape, so it’s embarrassing to fall away from that.”

Being around buddies who share the same feelings keeps the embarrassment down, Mike said.

Staying fit and active included 25 minute cycles of spinning, rowing, yoga and Zumba weight training, but people could really stay at the event for however long they wanted. Originally in 2012, the event only involved spinning.

Fundraising was a key for the event this year, with last year’s total reaching $3,000. This year’s coordinator and veteran, Beth Mitchell, wanted that total doubled.

Mitchell also serves as group exercise fitness program officer for the Rec Center. Her expertise helps allow for the event to be at the university.

“This is the second year we are making it a big event,” Mitchell said. “This year we opened up two more events in the rock wall and the lap pool for the 25-minute cycles.”

For Mitchell, the organization’s desire to hold such an event has allowed her to enter deeper into the veteran community.

“It brings us all together,” she said. “We support each other and incoming veterans.”

Mitchell’s personal desire — both for herself and Wheels Change — is to reach out and encourage more active duty, reserve, National Guard members and civilians to show support for the veteran community.

“I don’t want to just see veterans participating,” Beth said. “For future years, the outreach is desired for people like JROTC students still in high school. We want to really show everyone the sacrifices veterans give.”

Set up along the entrance to the Rec Center were nine stands for other organizations who explore veteran outreach in their community. Their selections were because of their “like minded” views, Schumaucher said.

Representatives of the Akron chapter for the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), a volunteer organization based on women who can trace their ancestry back to a member who helped in the War of Independence, held a spot at one table.

“We go to hospitals and schools to volunteer with veterans and educate American history,” State Chairman Lora Staats said. “I asked Cassie ‘Why DAR?’, when she asked us to come to this event. She said ‘Because DAR strongly supports veterans.’”

If there’s a veteran event, there will be a DAR woman there, Staats said.

Patriot Guard Rider Ride Captain and Vietnam War veteran Jim Morris said he felt honored when asked to be a part of the event.

“I want new veterans to know they need to build a network,” Morris said. “I am glad how open (Wheels4Change) was — it is what networking should be.”

Over the course of three hours, the Wheels4Change event brought in over 50 registers and around $3,500 – short of the $6,000 goal, but still an increase from last year’s total.

“We were able to go on for another year,” Schumacher said. “It’s nice that those who helped out want things to be even better for next year.”

At the conclusion of the event, Michelle’s voice carried across the southern section of the gym floor, partly, but was quietly overlapped by Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” from the gym’s own speaker system.

“God Bless America” kept the audience still — some dripping in sweat from the afternoon’s activities after pushing themselves — thinking about the veterans they were there serving.

It reminisced the opening prayer spoken to the attendees from earlier in the day: “Celebration for those who’ve fallen for the sacrifice of our great nation.”

Troy Lee is the military reporter, contact him at [email protected].