Ray Soto has run with Team HOPE over a dozen times, including in Nashville earlier this year. “When I run a marathon, a half marathon, [or a] 50k, and I have people [around me], it really feels great. It energizes me because we feed off each other. Being a part of a team helps us finish together,” Ray said.
He’s finishing races and hitting personal records with every step he takes. It’s hard to believe that in his early 20s, after suffering multiple injuries in Afghanistan, he was told he had a ten percent chance of ever running again. Instead of focusing on the negative, he persevered and trained himself to pound the pavement. In 2018, he retired as a Master Sergeant, and that’s when he found Hope For The Warriors.
“I love the name Hope For The Warriors because, like many veterans, we get to the point where we lose hope. We just do. All it takes is for that one person to reach out, that one organization that you really connect with and it gives you hope. I’ve connected a lot of friends with Hope For The Warriors, and they all say great things,” Ray said. One of those friends is Darek, who ran with Ray at the Nashville Rock N’ Roll Marathon.
“I have a friend, you just interviewed him,” Darek said with a smile. “I call him “Mags,” but his name is Raymundo Soto. He introduced me to Hope For The Warriors. He brought me in.” Ray has become an ambassador for HOPE, always wearing his HOPE shirt during races, even when he adds a Warrior costume to the mix.
“When I’m running as a warrior, I think it was a great opportunity to market Hope For The Warriors. People see the costume, and they’re like, who is this guy? Then they see the shirt, and it’s a great way to bring awareness for HOPE and what HOPE does,” Ray said. Whether he’s wearing the costume, a team HOPE jersey, or civilian clothes, Ray is a beacon of hope.
“There’s a quote that I tell myself whenever I’m in a rut or down on myself. When the anxiety kicks in, if it were easy, everyone would do it. I would just [tell] every veteran out there, it’s not easy, but it’s important we do it,” Ray said. “It’s important that we realize there is hope. You’ve just got to take that step. Take the next step, and the next step, just put one foot forward.”
This mantra is just one of the so many reasons why Ray is a recipient of the Vigiano Family Hope and Courage Award, an honor he’ll be receiving at the HOPE Gala in October. “I’m proud of him. He deserves it. I’m glad that HOPE will be able to recognize him,” Darek said. “I can see the hope. I’m happy [that it gave] me hope again,” Ray said. “I’m being redundant with the word hope, but that’s what it is! It’s hope!”
Team Hope For The Warriors (Team HOPE) provides athletes of all abilities the opportunity to compete at various endurance events throughout the year. Team HOPE is comprised of two different groups: Warrior Team and Community Team.
Warrior Team members are provided race support, goal-setting opportunities, and social engagement to ensure that they all feel the camaraderie, belonging, and connection that comes with being part of a team.
Community Team members challenge themselves to raise funds for America’s heroes, set new athletic goals, or simply support our military. Together, these Team members are united by the goal to improve the health of service members and military families across the nation.
*All Warrior Team participants must connect to services with Hope For The Warriors before being added to the program.