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Annual motorcycle ride to honor injured warrior’s sacrifice

Bikers participating in White Heart Foundation’s Ride to the Flags IX arrive at Malibu’s Bluffs Park Sept. 11, 2016. This year’s event on Sunday, Sept. 10, will raise funds for U.S. Army Cpl. Zac Gore. 22nd Century Media File Photo
Lauren Coughlin, Editor
7:00 am PDT September 7, 2017

The robust rumble of hundreds of motorcycles will return to the Pacific Coast Highway Saturday, Sept. 10, as the White Heart Foundation’s Ride to the Flags X returns.

Bikers will start their day at 7:30 a.m. at the Naval Base Ventura County, where 72 newly pinned naval chiefs will be honored. There will also be a 21-gun salute and a wreath-laying ceremony. Then, the bikers will fire up their hogs, and follow the winding coast to Malibu’s Bluffs Park, where a rally will be held.

Along the way, the patriotic bunch will raise thousands of dollars for one of America’s wounded heroes: U.S. Army Cpl. Zac Gore, of Connecticut.

Gore, a husband and a father of four, lost his left arm and leg when he stepped on an IED in Afghanistan in April 2013.

“The least we can do is get the community to rally around him and make certain that he’s taken care of,” White Heart Executive Director Ryan Sawtelle said. “ ... I just think with the sacrifice that he’s made, there’s no one more worthy, especially with a 9/11 event like this.”

The ride itself is free, but fundraising is encouraged. Further, the rally portion — which includes vendors, a beer tent and a door prize of a weeklong stay in Hawaii — costs $30 for motorcyclists and $20 for the general public. Sawtelle notes that many of the current vendors cater to the motorcycle crowd, but the nonprofit hopes to expand its reach in coming years.

“We want to build it up in the future years so we can be more inclusive to the city of Malibu,” Sawtelle said. 

All donations from this year’s event will go toward purchasing Gore’s “dream vehicle,” a 2018 Dodge Durango, Sawtelle noted. Sawtelle estimates that the truck will cost roughly $45,000, and as of Aug. 31, White Heart donors had already footed nearly half of the bill, with $21,500 raised. 

Having just one beneficiary each year is important to White Heart, explained Sawtelle.

“We don’t want ... so many beneficiaries that we cast a net so wide that we cant help anybody,” Sawtelle said.

Each year, Sawtelle said White Heart Foundation picks a new beneficiary from its “close-knit family of warriors,” primarily through personal recommendations and mutual connections. 

Last year’s ride helped fund continued construction and accessibility additions for U.S. Marine Corporal Thomas (Caleb) Getscher’s home in Leonardtown, Maryland, with roughly $65,000 raised for the effort.

Last year’s event saw 600 bikes, and Sawtelle anticipated that this year’s may include 700-750 bikers. Some of those riders will hail from Vegas, Florida, New York and Arizona, Sawtelle noted. 

The largest number of bikes the event can accommodate, particularly when it comes to parking on Malibu Canyon Road for the rally, he said, is 1,200 bikes.

“The more [riders] we get, the more funds we’re raising for Cpl. Gore so I hope it becomes a problem that we have too many,” Sawtelle said.

Bikers who still want to join in this year’s ride are still welcome to sign up — “the more, the merrier,” Sawtelle said. To register, visit www.ridetotheflags.com.