Taylor Hicks: Deep in the Hearts of the Texas Challenge
Text and photos contributed by Louise Uznanski. Click on the photos to enlarge. Videos graciously provided by Bonnie Cheung.
Ride 2 Recovery: It’s three words that have turned into so much more for me. I was privileged to be a small part of an amazing band of brothers at an event orchestrated to benefit the ‘unit’ of veterans wounded in the line of duty to their country. I admit what attracted me to this event was the inclusion of Taylor Hicks and his band who were invited to perform at the Kick-Off Benefit Concert at the Embassy Suites in San Marcos, Texas. I got to spend time with the artist Taylor Hicks. We all got to spend time with the humanitarian Taylor Hicks along with his ‘band of brothers’ Brian, Sam, Leif, Jeff, David and Brandon.
Ride 2 Recovery is a non profit organization that supports the rehabilitation of injured military veterans through cycling. In the “Don’t Mess with Texas Challenge” more than two hundred veterans and support personnel will cycle from San Antonio to Arlington, covering up to 50 miles per day on traditional bikes, recumbents, and hand cycles. It is truly a challenge. As rider Mike McNaughton told reporter Russell Wilde of austin.ynn.com, “The ride is hard, but misery loves company. And it’s a really good ride to not only get the wounded warriors together, but to get everyone together because we’re one big family.” (http://bit.ly/gqcdRH)
I had to think about why I was really in Texas and in doing that, I discovered that this day was not about me, Taylor Hicks or the challenges associated with the thousand miles I traveled to see this show. My thoughts led me to the true purpose of my travels, and that revelation led to my arrival at the venue early in the day. I said it was to check out the space, and I did learn the layout, etc., but it was the people I met there who turned my head around and set me in the right direction.Entering the hotel parking lot, I spotted this support truck in a space near the access road where the participants would make their entrance near the hotel’s lobby. I later spoke to the men unloading the truck. 210 riders were expected in this Texas Challenge. The truck contained bikes, parts, equipment and merchandise.
I waited next to the reception committee so I could see the riders come down the hilly access road on their way to the hotel. Some of the riders as they crossed the finish line for the first leg of the Challenge are here.
In my first encounter of the day, I met American Legion Post 744 Ladies Auxiliary member Sandy. She and her husband Tom, American Legion member, live in the San Marcos area and were the local organizers of the event. When Sandy heard my name she immediately went in to get her husband. I had corresponded with Tom on several occasions about the event and he told me that they were all thrilled that Taylor’s fans were coming from distant states to be a part of the Ride 2 Recovery event. I spoke with Sandy at length about the day’s schedule. Volunteers would serve the food and clean the ballroom before the show. Dignitaries from local and state governments would be there. The state and national commanders of the American Legion would be there as well as representatives of the sponsors of the ride including United Healthcare. I found out that the first year of the ride, the dinner was held at the Legion post. The second year it was held in the Embassy Suites but they had one half of the room they had on March 28th. The event has grown and is run by Ride 2 Recovery and volunteers from the Legion, the Auxiliary and the Junior Auxiliary of San Marcos. I met Pat Murdock next who wore many hats that day to keep the schedule going as planned. Thanks to Sandy, Tom and Pat for their generosity. Everyone was very busy so I left the ballroom and went to have a look around the facility.
Feeling more ready to be involved in this event, I looked for any signs that would tell me that Ride 2 Recovery and Taylor Hicks were united in this cause. No photos, no big banners or signs. I realized that this event was for the wounded warriors and the riders. I did find this sign which says in simple terms that Ride 2 Recovery included Taylor Hicks.
We then met Christopher Swan whose job with Ride to Recovery is coordinating all of the events and participants until the last fork is cleared away and the last note played by the band. He was extremely gracious to us and very appreciative of Taylor’s fans present at the event. There were 12 VIP guests who would have a meet and greet with Taylor after dinner. Then the show would start. It was Christopher’s unenviable job of lining everyone up in order: the sponsors, the dignitaries ,the veterans and riders, the VIPs and the dinner guests and filtering them in to the ballroom when it was their turn to enter. He did a more than admirable job! Looking back at the line of veterans and riders put this night into perspective for me so deeply that I would have waited until a thousand entered before going in to my reserved table. So many young and old wounded warriors entered the ballroom proudly wearing their medals and Legion hats that I forgot any physical problems I may have had at that moment. Nothing compares to the bravery and courage these men and women carried with them during and after their service to our country.
Dignitaries were introduced. The highlight of the night’s introductions was a rider who is blind and a double amputee who was wounded in the line of duty helping to save a fellow soldier. Ride 2 Recovery built a special tandem bike for him because he wanted to meet the challenge of riding in this event. The funds for a bike such as this are raised by Ride 2 Recovery’s state Challenges.
Christopher then led the group to the meet and greet with Taylor. He was waiting in a room across from the ballroom. Seeing him as we entered the room he looked relaxed and handsomely dressed in a blue velvet jacket, checked shirt and jeans. This was our time with Taylor Hicks the artist. Each person had the chance to speak to him individually and gifts were given to Taylor, the artist. Behind the last person in our group, a line started to form with the volunteers and riders who wanted to meet Taylor, the artist and humanitarian. This made me proud to be there and share Taylor with these people who gladly shared their time with the veterans and Ride 2 Recovery. The line was long but each person was graciously greeted by Taylor and his team of Clay Connor and Mike Douglas.
The ballroom was filled with over 400 in the audience. The state American Legion commander announced Taylor and his band by saying, “You may know that Taylor Hicks persevered to win American Idol in 2006 and that he has gone on to record CD’s and tour the country. What you may not know about Taylor is his support of our military men and women. When asked to help, he always says yes and for that I will hold him deep in my heart forever.” My heart swelled. What a moment!
Time for the show! I appreciate your patience in waiting for the recap of Taylor’s part of the show. I have learned that nothing is perfect but the night as a whole was so wonderful, it is easy to forget that the lighting was not ideal or the sound or the dance floor being in the front of the stage. But, the performance by Taylor and his band made up for any of the technical shortcomings that may have occurred during the night. Getting good media was a challenge, but sometimes that happens. And, the night was not about me, it was about them. All-in-all, the night was a win-win: Raising money for a great cause and seeing Taylor passionately perform was as satisfying as it gets!
His set list was familiar. The solos have been heard before but the passion was elevated to new heights especially on Nineteen and Why Can’t We Live Together. Taylor has never been better performing the latter song while playing the organ. Taylor changed some minds and made new fans. Win-win-win. I know these new fans were ecstatic to see their first live Taylor Hicks show since the Idol tour.
Photos and videos follow. I enjoyed my first trip to Texas. The people of Ride 2 Recovery are wonderful!! The veterans are proud of their service and their country. To be an American hit home seeing this laid out before my eyes. I am doubly proud of Taylor Hicks and his passion and support of our troops!
Why Can’t We Live Together?