Patrick Thornton fought for freedom twice in tours of Iraq.
He’ll ride for freedom Saturday.
Thornton, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, will be one of about 150 people to cycle in the 5th annual Freedom Ride. The ride begins and ends at American Legion, which is at 1459 Lincoln Ave., in Tyrone of Blair County. The 10-mile ride travels south on Old Route 220 and turns back to American Legion at DelGrosso’s Amusment Park in Tipton.
Thornton is a founder and board member of the ride, which had 20 people in its first year.
“It’s absolutely very special to me and to all of us that did the first time,” he said. “It’s become our baby. It’s really starting to grow. We thought it would. We always thought it would, because we knew there was a lot of patriotism here in Central Pennsylvania and support here. We knew people would get behind us in the community.”
The ride started when Thornton and his friends wanted something fun to do on the 4th of July.
“We all went to a friend’s house after (the first ride), and we were hanging out and talked about it,” Thornton said. “We thought it was a cool idea to have the ride benefit something, so we started researching local charities that we could connect with, got the VA in Altoona and set up with them.”
A year later, the Freedom Ride raised funds for the James E. Van Zandt Medical Center, an Altoona-based veterans hospital with a facility in College Township. All proceeds go to the hospital.
The Freedom Ride has raised about $23,000 in three years and expects to nearly double the amount Saturday.
“This year our goal was $20,000, and we should be right around there,” Thornton said. “Hopefully more people come out.”
To register for the ride, people can go the Freedom Ride website or pay in cash tomorrow at American Legion. Registration begins at 9 a.m., and the ride will kick off at about 10:20 a.m.
Thornton said it isn’t a race, but a chance for everyone to ride together.
“We’d also like to keep everyone together as best as possible for safety reasons,” he said.
There will be prizes for the youngest and oldest rider, best decorated bike by a child and adult, best dressed man and woman, most family members riding and the Most Valuable Rider.
The value of the ride, he said, is recognized by veterans.
“A couple of my friends’ fathers are veterans of Vietnam,” Thornton said. “They appreciate the younger generation wanting to raise money for others. They come here and get choked up about how much they appreciate it.”