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Posted on Tue. Apr. 15, 2014 - 12:01 am EDT

Le Tour De Fort bike pub crawl helps veterans

Fort Wayne charity ride benefits K9s for Warriors

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What: Le Tour de Fort charity bike pub crawl

When: Saturday, May 31

Where: Start at The Deck Don Hall's Gas House, 305 E Superior St., and ending at Fort Wayne Outfitters and Bike Depot, 1004 Cass St.

Cost: $30 per rider, tickets must be purchased online before May 11

-For more information, check out the Le Tour de Fort's website at letourdefort.org, the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/letourdefort or the Eventbrite page at www.eventbrite.com/e/le-tour-de-fort-tickets-9398345705.

-For more information on K9s for Warriors visit the website at www.k9sforwarriors.org or the Facebook at www.facebook.com/K9sforWarriors.

The route:

-Fort Wayne Outfitters and Bike Depot, 1004 Cass St.

-The Deck at Don Hall's Gas House, 305 E Superior St.

-JK O'Donnell's, 121 W. Wayne St. & Pint and Slice, 816 S. Calhoun St. (please use the parking garage at Wayne and Calhoun streets)

-Columbia Street West, 135 W. Columbia Ave.

-Fort Wayne Outfitters and Bike Depot, 1004 Cass St., with Gretta Speaks performing

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It all started out as a way to wish Joe Wasson a farewell when he was called up from the Inactive Ready Reserve to serve in Iraq. It was the spring of 2009 and Wasson's first tour. His buddies wanted to give him a night he could remember forever. So what was their creative idea? A pub crawl to the group's favorite Fort Wayne watering holes via bike. At the time it was just about 30 friends and the makings of a fun night.

But what was just a farewell celebration five years ago has now turned into a Fort Wayne community charity event that raises thousands of dollars for veterans.

Le Tour de Fort is a bike pub crawl through the streets and greenways of Fort Wayne that raises money for K9s for Warriors, which provides service canines to warriors suffering from post-traumatic stress as a result of conflicts and war after 9/11. The group also hopes to raise awareness and money to support veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

When Wasson had returned home from Iraq in 2010, he along with friends and family rode to raise money and awareness for The Fisher House, which provides military families housing close to a loved one during hospitalization for an illness, disease or injury.

“We enjoyed ourselves quite and bit and when I came back to the U.S. we decided to do it again. Our numbers increased at that point and we felt it was important to give back. That's the origin of this ride, it's about helping veterans in need,” Wasson said.

After seeing the opportunities to make a difference, Wasson decided it should be an annual event and registered as an LLC to raise awareness of PTSD.

The following years the group dedicated rides to The Wounded Warrior Project, and then in 2013, the group raised $10,000 for K9s For Warriors thanks to nearly 700 riders.

Vince Corona grew up with Wasson and has attended every tour.

“Joe is my oldest friend. I've known him since kindergarten and we used to play GI Joes together. He joined the Army and then I did a few years later. Our time in the Army overlapped but we were never stationed together. We always say we went from playing GI Joes to being GI Joes,” he said.

Corona said at first, when the tour was small, the ride took to the streets, but now with the tour expecting about 700, it sticks to the convenient greenways to keep it safe for both riders and drivers.

“On the tour, you run into people that came because of a friend of a friend. But it's also fun to meet new people. I always say it's one of the best days of the year,” Corona said.

Wasson said the event's popularity spread by word of mouth and it's success still surprises him.

“It all originated in the Southwood Park area of Fort Wayne and it grew from there. We didn't want to make too big of a deal about it and we still enjoy the nostalgia,” he said. “But at the end of the day it's we are all trying to raise awareness for PTSD.”

Just as the tour's slogan says: It's not about the destination; it's about the journey along the way.

jgoldsborough@news-sentinel.com


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