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  • Hugh T Gregory American Legion Post 63

The 6th Annual American Legion “Challenge 22 Ruck-Walk and Block Party” returns to The Crooked Can

Updated: Nov 7, 2022


WINTER GARDEN, FL. NOV. 12, 2022 -- On Saturday November 12th from 10:00 am - 9:00 pm, the American Legion, with support from the City of Winter Garden, and the Crooked Can Brewery will host the 6th Annual Challenge 22 Ruck-Walk and Block Party next to the Plant Street Market, with a 2.2 mile walk along the west orange trail from 11:00 am to 12:30. The purpose of this event is to help bring awareness to the community about the veteran suicide epidemic in this country (22 suicides per day) and the need to raise funds for the treatment of veterans who are struggling with Post Traumatic Stress (PTS), depression and moral injury. 

Presently, the Veteran’s Administration (VA) is unable to cover most of the costs associated with the effective modalities to heal the PTS and moral injury our heroes are going through.

The money raised by this event and the Winter Garden American Legion Post 63 goes 100% for the programs that treat veterans physically, spiritually, emotionally, and socially.

With approximately $300,000 raised over the past 5 years, more than 8,000 veterans, first responders, or family members have been treated and healed from PTS and other issues that drew them to contemplate suicide.  “To date, we are ecstatic to report that we have had zero suicides from those who have gone through one or more of the programs we support financially,” says Kurt Gies, American Legion Post 63 commander and Winter Garden’s Challenge 22 event founder in 2017.

Money is raised by the community through a $22 donation (register at and local businesses for donations and sponsorships. "The goal for 2022 is to raise $100,000, which equates to 4,000 registrations!"… says Lana Gies, volunteer and co-founder of the event. Completely do-able in this communication age!"

The post-walk block party offers a great time for all — complete with raffle prizes, silent auction bidding, food, drinks, merchandise sales, face-painting, tactical vehicles display, hysterical games and many other activities for kids and families to enjoy.

Raffle and silent auction prizes include wine baskets, gift cards to restaurants, spa packages, a 70” television and more, all of which have been donated by local businesses.

The format and schedule of the events appeals to all ages and interests, beginning at 9:00 am with registration and breakfast for paid participants (chicken and waffles and beverage of choice), pre-event facepainting in the kids’ station, (by the silo) some sidewalk chalkin’ or browsing of the tactical vehicles and mini-car show supporting the cause, will keep all ages busy while the preparations for the opening ceremonies are underway.  High top tables and marketplace seating will be available to enjoy food and drinks all day throughout the event.  

Additionally The Patriot Guard Riders (PGR) will be setting up a 47-foot replica of the VietNam memorial wall and also the War on Terror memorialwall for the community and veterans to pay homage to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. The wall will be centered in the easement on Plant Street, between The Plant Street Market and Burger Fi. This is an incredible opportunity to see the famous tribute to our fallen veterans.

At 9:55 am a special guest performer Ken Anders will sing “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables, which is actually a desperate prayer of a father-in-law to God as his son-in-law steps into the trenches of the French Revolution.  It is a tribute to all parents and families who have experienced the heart-wrenching emotion of pride and fear as their loved ones go off to war. Immediately following the song that will surely draw in passers-by, the Opening Ceremonies will proceed. 

The first hour of the event is the only somber time of the day.  It is also the most powerful and inspirational and is a fantastic tribute to our veterans and first-responders.  A time for the community to be educated about the life-threatening struggles our veterans and first responders face, learn about the protocols and treatments that are currently being used to clear PTS symptoms, and be a visual blanket of support for those who feel isolated and alone.  This year we are honored to have former US Secretary of Veteran Affairs Peter O'Rourke as a guest speaker.

This is also a spectacular visual display of patriotism by local Sea Cadets, JROTC members, American Legionnaires, and talented civilians as they perform an official flag retirement ceremony, a mock graveside memorial service, including a formal rifle volley, formal flag folding and presentation, and the national anthem sung for the 6th straight year by 20-year old rising star, Amelia Hanks. Each year the memorial flag is presented to a member of the community who has experienced a circumstance in need of closure, and this year the memorial flag will be presented to Anna Fabry, fiancé of Windermere's beloved Evan Fitzgibbon, West Point graduate and former Boy's State representative for the local American Legion, who was tragically killed in an Army Ranger training accident on August 9.  Because Ms. Fabry was not yet officially married at the time of his death, the flag that was on the casket was presented to the parents, who are considered the official next of kin.  This is a time for Anna to be able to experience the honorable gesture of gratitude and sacrifice. 

Kurt Gies will briefly speak about the suicide epidemic, with a focus on which treatment programs and services are currently available to our veterans, many of which unfortunately are not covered by VA insurance.  It is for this reason that Challenge 22 events need to happen nationwide and as frequently as possible.  On average, it costs upwards of $5,000 to administer the specific protocol needed to heal a veteran.  Closing the opening ceremonies, Lana Gies will lead the community in a prayer for our hurting heroes.


AND THEN, THE WALK (and RIDE):  A “Ruck” walk is a military term that service members use when they travel long distances on foot; typically, in full combat gear, with 50-80 pound “Ruck sack” on their backs. This walk is a scaled-down version, where the community joins in on a 2.2-mile route, with some giving “rucking” a shot while most walk-in street clothes or PT gear. Departing from the Plant Street Market and rucking along the West Orange Trail east, participants, (who registered for $22) will begin forming a line behind the military branch flags of their choosing and proceed to walk east on Plant Street to the West Orange Trail, and at 1.1 miles will circle back again to begin the afternoon’s festivities at the Crooked Can, completing a 2.2 mile route in honor of the 22 veterans who are taking their lives each day in this country.


“It's such an impressive scene,” says Austin Arthur, local businessman and staunch supporter of all things patriotic, “to witness families with their strollers, couples, school groups, businesses in matching company attire, veterans old and young in uniform carrying their ruck sacks, military flags, some with dogs, others riding in golf carts, many dedicating the walk to a loved one who just lost hope...all marching the streets of Winter Garden together. It says a lot to a veteran who may be struggling with finding their place back into daily life.”

For those unable to attend the event, the American Legion is offering a “virtual option” to participate in the Challenge 22 “Ruck” Walk.  By registering online at anyone in the world can do their part to help end veteran suicide. “We’d love to have someone from each of the 50 states participate with us.” says Commander Gies. “So, if you have a family member, friend or co-worker who lives outside of the area, please encourage them to join us!” Exact details on how to participate virtually are on the website, but the most important part is to REGISTER so that $22 can be added to the funds for our veteran and first responders. Anyone can donate easily with the new text-to-give platform by simply texting the letters C22 to 41444.

So just got to your phone, hit the text message icon, type 41444 in the "To: " section, and in the message field, type C22, hit send! You will be texted back immediately with a link to donate in just a few short clicks!

Upon returning the stage, walkers will be greeted by an inspiring performance by Gymnastics USA's The Climbers! It's an acrobatic affair and performers will be available for autograph signings in the kids area following the performance.

At 2 pm, a walk-on-two-wheels will take place for Riders from the American Legion Legion Riders and Patriot Guard wishing to make a powerful statement as the ride 22 miles through lake county in honor of the 22! Route map is on the website.

ENTERTAINMENT: The after-walk party is a celebration of our heroes led by Billy Flanigan, Disney’s longest running entertainer in history, (40 years) and host of Thursdays weekly Open Mic Night at the Loft above Pilar's. Billy will be bringing his energy and talent to the stage for the second year as MC and entertainer. Billy garnered national attention from People magazine, and Good Morning America in 2020 when he began biking to friends’ houses to deliver socially-distant singing telegrams called "Flanigrams". Biking over 7,000 miles for smiles and visiting 500 people in 16 different states, his life story is being featured in a new documentary appropriately titled, “The Happiest Man on Earth".  “I hope to see all of the Winter Garden community there!” says Flanigan.

Along with Flanigan, there will be several musical entertainers including Cypress Fyre, featuring Chris Rupp founder of the popular acapella band "HOMEFREE", the Harmony in the Hills Singers, the Layla Brisbois band and closing out the night will be the indie sensation and always popular draw, Beemo.  Beemo is an acoustic local Americana band with “mountain music roots”. Their sound is a blend of indie-rock, Irish folk, bluegrass, and elements of the singer/songwriter genre, drawing inspiration from REM, Johnny Cash, Nickel Creek and Ray LaMontagne.


WORLD WAR II Veterans turn 100 and 101 years old and HEALED!

For the 4th year in a row, a special birthday tribute will be going out to two WWII veterans, Mel Jenner and Gilbert Wagenheim who will be turning 100 and 101 years old that week! Although fortunately not suicidal, Mel Jenner did suffer from survivors guilt/PTS for more than 75 years after seeing his best friend get blown out of the airplane next to him.  After hearing of the new highly effective RTM protocol used to heal PTS that was presented at the 2018 event, Mel was the first WWII veteran (perhaps still the only) to have gone through the program with First Orlando Counseling specialist, Kari Russo.  To his surprise, in less than a couple of hours, he was healed and for the first time since the incident, able to say his friend’s name aloud. Oscar. Since that time, he has remarried and is intending to walk part of the way on Saturday.

Volunteers and silent auction donations always needed! Contact Lana Gies VIA TEXT at 407-719-7611

To learn more about the event and how you can participate physically, virtually, financially, or even by sharing socially with the hashtag #EndVeteranSuicide, go to Info and registration available at . For additional information, call or text Kurt Gies at 407-701-9416, or email



NOVEMBER 9, 2022



CELL PHONE: 407-719-7611 / 407-701-9416





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