LOS ANGELES - As Americans commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a group of cyclists will be wrapping up their five-day, 225-mile journey raising awareness of the compounded daily trauma experienced by first responders.
The Quell Foundation is calling it the 9/11 Ride of Hope and it will take 20 active, retired and surviving family members of first responders from New York City to Arlington, Va. Many of the participants responded to the terrorist attacks two decades ago.
One of the cyclists, Erich Twachtman has worked closely with some of these first responders in hopes of raising awareness for mental health and the trauma caused by the 9/11 attacks.
"Unfortunately the mental health of those first responders is often neglected," Twachtman said. "These are our heroes who are always helping everybody else but they rarely ask for help themselves."
Twachtman shared that many of the survivors and first responders who were present on the day the twin towers fell are still negatively impacted by the tragic event.
Twachtman urged more people to help support the Quell Foundation which he says is doing tremendous work in helping first responders who are still struggling with mental health following the Sept. 11, terrorist attacks.
Another member of the ride, Robert Verhelst, was a fireman who took part in the search and recovery efforts after the twin towers collapsed.
Reflecting on his arrival at Ground Zero in the wake of the attacks, Verhelst said he wasn’t ready for what he saw as a 23-year-old.
"Your hope goes away," Verhelst explained. "You start to ask yourself a lot of ‘why’ questions, and a lot of those questions never have answers."
According to Kevin M. Lynch, CEO and president of the Quell Foundation, first responders are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty.
"These Americans who have dedicated their life to protecting, and saving ours, are taking their own at unprecedented rates," Lynch explained in a news release. "The deteriorating mental health of our country’s first responders is at a critical point."
Verhelst said the Ride of Hope aims to change that, bringing together a group of people that share one of the most infamous traumas and creating a space to talk about them.
Jordan Smith contributed to this story.