DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR
SMITHWICK — While she always knew military men and women sacrifice so much to keep the United States free, Jean Eades’ appreciation grows even more for their commitment each year she helps organize the Wheelers for the Wounded event at Hidden Falls Adventure Park.
“Freedom really isn’t free,” Eades said. “Our young men and young women have paid the price and are paying the price for it. You realize how much they give when you spend a day with them.”
On May 4, more than 400 military men and women, all of whom are Purple Heart recipients, and their families will spend the day “rock crawling” and off-roading at Hidden Falls Adventure Park, located seven miles east of Marble Falls on RR 1431. This is the fifth year the park and the Marble Falls/Lake LBJ Chamber of Commerce have helped host the event.
Eades, who’s volunteered each year, said the goal is simple: Give the service members and their families a day outdoors.
“A lot of guys who were injured (in the wars) enjoyed being outside and doing things outside, but because of their injuries, they may not have been able to do that as much,” Eades said. “This gives them a way to get outdoors and just have a great time.”
But Wheelers for the Wounded isn’t just for the outdoorsy type. Eades said the event gives many of the Purple Heart recipients and their families a chance to experience an adventure they might otherwise never get.
Off-road and rock-crawling rig owners, more than 100, volunteer their equipment and time to take the service members and their families on trips throughout the several-thousand-acre park. The rig owners pay for their own expenses.
“They come from all over Texas to be a part of this,” Eades said of the rig owners.
The trails vary from dirt roads to extreme rock crawling.
Rock crawling is a sport in which participants modify four-wheeled drive vehicles to the point the rig can climb rocks and hills that some would say is “impossible.”
The Purple Heart recipients come from the Fort Hood area, Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio and Houston. Many of them have suffered catastrophic injuries, including loss of limbs or burns.
But when they crawl in one of the four-wheeled drive rigs and head down the trail, Eades said they’re all smiles.
“The funny thing is we go up and thank them for their service, but they turn around and just thank us for the day,” Eades said. “They’re so grateful for the time they have to come out here and have a family outing.”
Eades said the service members aren’t just responding to the off-road adventure. Some of the most important aspects of the day are the times when the service members can just have an ear to bend.
“They just love to have somebody to sit down and talk to,” she said.
The day isn’t just off-road riding. Those who aren’t interested in hitting the trails will find plenty of things to do.
“We’ll have entertainment for the kids. We’ll have entertainment for the adults who don’t want to go out,” Eades said. “They’ll definitely be something for everybody to do.”
While the day is set aside for the Purple Heart recipients, Eades said the public is invited to volunteer or come out and greet the service members. The event starts at 9 a.m., but the buses begin arriving before that time.
People interested in volunteering or assisting can call Eades at (830) 693-4449.
“It’s a very moving experience,” Eades said. “It makes you more aware of what they have given for freedom.”