Harleys for heroes

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Members of the local chapter of Rolling Thunder might not be first responders, but they understand the importance of the work first responders do.

That’s why in 2015 a group of 15 motorcycle riders from the club, whose primary mission is to bring full accountability for prisoners of war and service members missing in action, decided to ride their motorcycles past Ventura County police stations as a way to thank law enforcement officers for all they do during a time when the number of officers killed in the line of duty was increasing.

Behind the efforts was Thousand Oaks resident and motorcycle enthusiast John Short.

“(First responders) do the best job they possibly can to protect us in Ventura County knowing that they may not come home at the end of their shift, and they do that willingly and selflessly,” Short said, explaining why he and fellow riders continue the tradition annually.

Having grown in both breadth and width, the ninth annual event, which will take place May 4, will bring together hundreds of motorcyclists from across the state to visit local doctors, paramedics, firefighters and police officers and fund mental health services.

The ride became more personal for Short on Nov. 7, 2018. Ventura County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ron Helus, Short’s friend, was shot and killed while responding to a mass shooting at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks.

As a way to honor his fallen friend, Short added Helus’ name to the annual event.

“He knew when he entered Borderline that there was a high probability that he would not come out of that, but he was willing to sacrifice his life to save hundreds of individuals that night,” Short said. “He was a God-fearing individual who protected and served the community.”

Ventura County Sheriff Jim Fryhoff said he is grateful that Short changed the name of the event to honor Helus’ willingness to run toward danger and pay the ultimate sacrifice.

“Ron’s heroism and legacy will never be forgotten, and Ride for the Blue will continue to ensure this,” he said.

The spirit behind the event again expanded in 2020 when Short felt called to express appreciation not only for the sheriff’s office but all first responders, especially healthcare workers, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

First responders, Short said, can experience a lifetime of trauma in a single shift. If left unaddressed, that trauma can build over time and negatively impact job performance, personal relationships, health and more.

Beginning this year, all of the money raised from Ride for the Blue will benefit the Ventura County Community Foundation, a nonprofit that will provide local first responder agencies with training on peer support, leadership, wellness and resiliency.

“Mental health support is paramount,” Short said. “Providing this mental health support and wellness training for all of our first responders will allow them to be the best that they can be.”

Ventura County Fire Chief Dustin Gardner also emphasized the importance of mental health resources, expressing appreciation for the community’s efforts.

“Just as we did by responding together that night, we now stand with our colleagues in law enforcement and all other first responders to remember Ron’s sacrifice and raise awareness for the mental health needs of everyone who answers the call when there is an emergency,” he said.

This year, an expected 400 participants will spend seven hours visiting first responders at police stations in nine cities: Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks, Moorpark, Camarillo, Port Hueneme, Oxnard, Ventura, Santa Paula and Fillmore

Check-in is scheduled for 6:30 a.m. Sat., May 4 at Simi Valley City Hall, 2929 Tapo Canyon Road.

To learn more about this year’s Ride for the Blue event, go online to the website or contact Short at (800) 606-1390.

This article was originally published by the Thousand Oaks Acorn.

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