SIERRA VISTA — Local veterans Stu Carter and Rich Lazok will be teaming up on a tandem bike for a 62-mile cycling event in October.

The fifth annual Sky Island Tour, a recreational bike ride featuring five different distances, is slated for Oct. 2. Organized as a fundraiser for the National Alliance on Mental Illness Southeastern Arizona, the event starts out at the Windemere Hotel and Conference Center, with the first group of riders leaving at 7 a.m.

Routes include the following distances: a 62-mile metric-century ride that extends from Hereford and loops through Bisbee; 40- and 30-mile rides that pass through Hereford; a 20-mile ride that travels over parts of the Cochise Vista Trail in Sierra Vista; and a 5-mile fun ride that follows the multi-purpose path around The Mall at Sierra Vista then returns to the hotel. The metric-century ride kicks the event off at 7 a.m., followed by other routes at half-hour intervals.

“Stu Carter founded the Sky Island Tour in 2015,” said Judy Tritz, a NAMI board member who has stepped in for Carter as the event’s committee chair. “Because he was always busy running the tour, this is the first year he is able to ride.”

Carter and Lazok have been a tandem team since 2016. Lazok, a retired Army colonel, is legally blind. He is a member of VeloVets Sierra Vista, a nonprofit organization that encourages veterans to start cycling for the sport’s health and recreational benefits. As a retired Air Force colonel and long-time bicycle enthusiast, Carter started the local VeloVets organization in Sierra Vista.

“The goal is to get our veterans off the couch, outside exercising and enjoying the outdoors,” he said. “Seventeen of the vets in our group are 100 percent disabled. Most of them require specially designed bikes. For those who are blind, we use the tandems. For those with balance issues, we use trike recumbents.”

About 15 VeloVet members will be riding in the Sky Island Tour.

Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday Carter and Lazok pedal out of the Pueblo del Sol Country Club parking lot on the tandem bike with a group of cyclists.

“Most of our training rides are about 35 miles, but we’ve been known to put in some really long distances,” said Carter. “In July, we went to Iowa and finished a 450-mile, seven-day ride.”

More than 265 riders have registered for the Sky Island Tour, representing a significant increase from the past four rides. While participants are encouraged to register in advance by going to www.skyislandtour.com, Carter said event organizers also accept riders the day of the event.

After managing the tour for five years, Carter handed it over to the NAMI organization and its team of board members, with Tritz as the event chair.

“I started the ride in 2015, with the goal of making 2020 my last year,” Carter said. “We had to cancel the event in 2020 because of COVID, so 2019 was our last Sky Island event. Rich and I look forward to participating in it this year.”

Along with enjoying the ride’s spectacular scenery, all registered riders will be receiving a neon-blue T-shirt, NAMI SEAZ Executive Director Anna Eichenbrock said.

“The ride is co-hosted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness Southeastern Arizona and the city of Sierra Vista,” she added.

She also spoke of important partnerships with the Cochise County Sheriff’s Assist Team, Cochise Amateur Radio Association, Cochise Bicycle Advocates and the Windemere Hotel.

“Support for NAMI SEAZ is critically needed at this time because of stress and loss for so many due to the pandemic,” Eichenbrock said. “We’ve experienced job and income losses, social isolation, loss of loved ones, remote learning, and the pressures on parents, caregivers and essential workers. The list goes on.”

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