When is a motorcycle more than just a ride? For Iraq veteran Paul Rivera, tinkering with the mechanics was a kind of therapy. It calmed him as much as a ride on the open road.
But his peace of mind was stolen from his apartment parking lot June 18, 2014.
The Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office sent out notices about the veteran’s loss to local news media. The motorcycle was recovered and returned to Rivera on July 4th.
But, the vehicle was in bad shape. It had been stripped of parts and spray painted black.
So, the deputies contacted the Nam Knights Westside Motorcycle Club for help. The non-profit club of military veterans, law officers and civilian supporters stepped up. They raised money from other veteran organizations to cover about $1,500 worth of parts. And two members, Travis Wright and Ryan McDonaugh, completely rebuilt the motorcycle.
Businesses stepped up too. Stepp’s Towing transferred the motorcycle for free as it was being repaired and repainted. Another donated the oil change and safety check, another a motorcycle lock.
Saturday, August 16, 2014, at the base of the Iraq War Memorial at Veterans Park, members of the Nam Knights and Hillsborough deputies unveiled the renovated motorcycle to the awe of Rivera.
The sight of the restored motorcycle and the applause from more than 50 people who came to celebrate the return left the soft-spoke veteran almost speechless.
He told the crowd how much the motorcycle meant to him because it was the only thing he and his 3-year-old daughter had left after he got out of the Army in 2011.
Rivera said he didn’t know how he could ever thank them for their generosity.
Then someone from the crowd shouted “We thank you for your service.”