Location: Largo, FL
Five years ago, Kelly McDonald, who works in the supply chain department at Raytheon (No. 129), was an overweight chain smoker trying to kick the habit. One day, when she was craving a cigarette, she decided instead to take the rusty old Beach Cruiser bicycle in her garage for a spin. “I went not even a quarter of a mile, and I was literally sore for three days,” she says. But she kept cycling, and just a few years later, she was looking to go on a cycling tour for vacation. She stumbled upon Ride 2 Recovery, which organizes biking challenges, or multi-day rides, for veterans. Though not a veteran, McDonald rode in a challenge that year.
The following year, she was partnered with Kathy Champion, a veteran who had lost her sight during her service in Iraq. Champion hadn’t been a cyclist, and they trained on a tandem bike for five months before the challenge, which involved a ride from New Orleans to Tallahassee. “I met a woman who was so closed up and not trusting, but for whatever reason, she trusted me to get on that bike,” McDonald says. “She started just coming to life.” The two rode every mile of the challenge together, with McDonald in the front to pilot, and Champion behind.
That experience changed McDonald as well; she has since founded a local branch of the Project HERO program, a subsidiary of Ride 2 Recovery that organizes regular group bike rides for veterans and supporters across the country. Each week, she cycles with veterans, many of whom require adapted bikes for their disabilities or have PTSD in Pinellas county. “It’s hard to convey how deeply moving it is to watch people grow and transform right in front of your eyes,” McDonald told Fortune. “There’s nothing that special about me, but when someone asked if I would do something, I just said yes.”