Sandy couple raises funds for veterans with 2,600-mile bike rideDec 06, 2021 03:26PM ● By Heather Lawrence
Dean and Lorri Zenoni at their home in Sandy after completing the fundraising bike ride this summer that stretched from Canada to Mexico. (Scott G. Winterton/Deseret News)
By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]
Sandy residents Dean and Lorri Zenoni love each other, the outdoors, veterans and a challenge.
They combined their love of all four this summer when they rode mountain bikes across the Great Divide from Canada to Mexico. The ride is an ongoing fundraiser for veterans through Semper Fi & America’s Fund, with a fund match through Dec. 31.
“I like to put something on my calendar that I call a ‘good stressor’; a challenge with a deadline that I can work towards. It’s good for my mental health,” said Dean, a USMC veteran who served 24 years in the military. His career was cut short when he was injured in Fallujah, Iraq.
The traumatic brain and cervical spine injuries changed everything. He found himself working with the Wounded Warrior Unit, where he was introduced to the Semper Fi Fund.
“I was assigned a case manager who listened to my story. They were instrumental in my transition from active duty to going to school to find a next career. And they addressed my mental and physical health,” Dean said.
One of Dean’s priorities was to continue being athletic. “I found out that Semper Fi had a sports program. I learned the best ways to keep my body active. They’ve supported me since I retired in 2011,” Dean said.
Dean’s wife Lorri doesn’t have a military background, but like Dean she loves to be outdoors.
“Protecting our freedoms is a core value for me, so I am highly supportive of anything that helps my husband or any other vets. There are a lot of programs out there, but people just don’t know about them,” Lorri said.
In 2020 Dean was having a rough time and didn’t feel very motivated. So the Zenonis decided to put a “positive stressor” on the calendar: a 2,600-mile, 59-day, cross-country bike ride to raise funds for Semper Fi & America’s Fund.
The Zenonis found organizations to match the funds they raised. Utah-based company doTERRA matched funds through Nov. 30. The Bob and Renee Parsons Foundation will match donations through Dec. 31. Go to www.thefund.org/Match and search Zenoni to donate.
Combining a fundraiser with the ride was a win-win. “Getting outside and moving is so therapeutic for me, for so many people. You have a goal to meet, and you start to feel better. I’ve realized it’s a critical part of my mental health,” Dean said.
Dean dove into researching the ride. Planning the route played into his strengths from military training. He saw the journey as a patrol order, and he knew the distance, supplies and logistics of each leg of the ride.
“I made digital maps for the entire bike route of the Great Divide. It’s similar to the hiking trail, but there are some wilderness areas where you aren’t allowed to ride. It’s all deep roads or forest service roads,” Dean said.
“I never talked about mental health while on active duty. You have to be stoic, the ‘nothing affects me’ type. But going public with this fundraiser meant I could get the word out about organizations that are here to help,” Dean said.
The Zenonis trained in southern Arizona in the winter and spring. They packed up their bikes, each with 70 pounds of gear and supplies, and started at the Canada/Montana border on June 11. They posted their progress on social media. Friends and strangers followed their adventure on social media and were inspired.
Their trip meant camping most nights. They met people who wanted to ride stretches of the route with them. They drank from streams and carried bear spray. They stayed in a hotel six times, and used the stops to shower, do laundry and restock.
One experience they’ll never forget happened in Colorado when a huge thunderstorm came out of nowhere. “We found a safe spot, got our tent up, and there was intense thunder and lightning. These big drops just start to fall and all hell is breaking loose! Lorri was scared and I was having a great time,” Dean said.
Though their ride was a big undertaking, the Zenonis say their message is that anyone can get out there, set a goal, and start moving and healing.
“It sounds extreme biking from Canada to Mexico, but the roads are all accessible. Someone who wants to could go for just a day or two and have vehicle support on the roads,” Lorri said.
The Zenonis also found a spiritual component to the trip. “It’s different on a bike. Someone we were riding with had an audiobook on, and we had to kindly ask them to turn it off. It was ruining the experience of being in nature,” Dean said.
They also inspired others. “A veteran we worked with in a Utah bike race program reached out to us and told us that following our adventure inspired him to get back out on his bike. He told us he’s riding and feeling less depressed now,” Lorri said.
Inspiring people is just another win for the Zenonis on this adventure. “We want people to get out in nature, particularly our veterans and especially the wounded ones. You’re out there riding a bike because you like to do it. But then when you’re outside, there are benefits and byproducts, and you’re improving your outlook on life,” Lorri said.
Dean and Lorri are looking for a new adventure, another positive stressor to put on their calendars for 2022. “Maybe extreme golf?” Dean suggests.