Salt Lake couple rides through Summit County for Canada-to-Mexico fundraiser
Marine Corps veteran hopes to raise $100K for Semper Fi & America’s Fund
On Thursday morning near Kremmling, a cycling couple from Salt Lake City experienced the majesty of the Rocky Mountains on a 2,495-mile bike ride fundraiser from the U.S.-Canada border to the southern border with Mexico.
Before retired U.S. Marine Corps Master Sgt. Dean Zenoni and his wife, Lorri, began their bike ride from Kremmling up and over Ute Pass and down to Summit County this week, they took in the awe-inspiring orange sunrise over low-hanging clouds and the beautiful Gore Range.
In the foreground was the stars and stripes of the American flag. And Dean — a veteran of four tours in Iraq as well as deployments to Somalia, Haiti, Cuba, Liberia and numerous other locations — was sure to salute Old Glory.
For the Zenonis, it was one of the most memorable moments 36 days into their June 11 to Aug. 11 ride along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route to fundraise for the Semper Fi & America’s Fund, which recently merged with the Vail Veterans Program. The fund is a veteran nonprofit charity that has given $246 million in assistance to more than 26,000 service members.
And Dean is one of them.
“On this ride, you see all the farmhouses, all the homesteads down the county roads with pride, everyone displaying the American flag,” Dean said. “This morning with the sunrise, we went by one ranch flying both the Marine Corps and American flags. To see that dedication from fellow Americans hits home for me.”
It hits home with Dean because in his 24th year in the Marines, he suffered a career-ending cervical spine injury after he was slammed around while in a military vehicle in Iraq.
The injury left Dean with a ruptured disc that required surgery and caused a great deal of pain as it damaged a couple of nerves that went to Dean’s upper chest and tricep.
With the injuries, Dean looked for a way to manage his pain and stay connected with his service brothers. Through his connection to a wounded warrior battalion, Dean found the fund.
Unable to lift weights like he enjoyed pre-injury, Dean was introduced through the fund to cycling as a form of healing and therapy. It’s something the now-51-year-old knew would challenge him but not aggravate his injuries. The Semper Fi & America’s Fund has also helped Dean become a certified USA Cycling coach, and he also used the GI Bill to go to bike mechanic school.
“The fund was essential in me making my transition,” Dean said. “I was ready to do 30 years in the service. I wasn’t ready to be a civilian all of a sudden.”
More than a decade into his time with the fund, Dean wanted to find a way to give back to the organization that has been so instrumental in his recovery while also improving his own health — hence, his fundraising odyssey.
The Zenonis are making the north-to-south bike ride on Trek 1120 hard-tail mountain bikes with 3-inch tires. The back roads and trails of the Rocky Mountains are a far cry from the isolation at home Dean experienced last fall, which he said motivated him to undertake the journey.
“I was getting a little bogged down and depressed last fall, and with all the COVID stuff, we needed to get out of the house,” he said. “So I looked for something we could do this summer that wouldn’t be impacted by any of the COVID stuff. In early December, we started shopping for the bikes.”
Lorri said she’s enjoyed seeing the scantily populated back roads of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and now Colorado. Another favorite memory was cresting over Gore Pass and dropping into Radium north of Summit County for their first glimpse of Gore Canyon and the mighty Colorado River.
At 60 miles per day, the journey is exhausting in spots. And it will be again as the group rides through Hartsel and Salida after departing Summit County. But the main focus for the couple is reaching their goal of $100,000 for the fund. Dean said he settled on that number after seeing other people raise smaller donations for 5- and 10-kilometer races.
“I didn’t count how many K’s were between Canada and Mexico, but there is a lot,” he said.
To contribute to the Zenonis’ fundraiser for the Semper Fi & America’s Fund, visit Give.TheFund.org/fundraiser/3167508
As of Friday, including promises of matching donations to be added later, the couple was above $30,000.
Time will tell just how much they raise. For now, Lorri is excited to get back to soaking in the sights while cycling.
“Our country is so beautiful,” she said. “We have some amazing backcountry areas that we have been able to cycle through that we probably would have never seen.
“And the other thing, there are amazing people we have met along this trail. We have matching jerseys — red, white and blue — so people notice them, and people stop us and ask us what we are doing. And then, once I get a signal and come into a town, I can see there’s been a donation to the page. Someone we just met that day after stopping and talking to us makes a donation? We have just been overwhelmed.”