The former president said that veterans are "teaching us that when we face adversity, we can push our limits of what is possible"

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George W. Bush
David Coradni (left), George W. Bush
| Credit: Cigna/Facebook

George W. Bush honored American veterans and athletes this week at a Wednesday event to coincide with the Achilles Resilience Relay, a 650-mile event for people with disabilities. 

Speaking to Cigna Corporation CEO David Cordani at the appearance on Wednesday, the 74-year-old former president, who presided over two major wars, said that everyone can "learn from the resilience and determination of our American soldiers," particularly in light of the many challenges of the past year.

"Demonstrating bravery on the battlefield, they often return home with injuries — both visible and invisible — that intensify the challenges of transitioning to civilian life," Bush said. "Together, we celebrate an elite group of veterans who, through their perseverance and athletic accomplishments, are teaching us that when we face adversity, we can push our limits of what is possible."

Bush spoke as athletes competing in the Achilles relay were in Washington, D.C. The relay began on June 26 in Charlotte, North Carolina, and has continued up the East Coast. It will conclude in New York City's Central Park on July 9.

The Achilles Freedom Team of wounded, ill or injured veterans cover the first 400 miles of the Resilience Relay, which covers the area from Charlotte to D.C.

Since leaving office in 2009 — his reputation shaped by the country's Middle East conflicts — the 43rd president has paid homage to veterans in various ways, including through art.

In 2017, Bush released Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief's Tribute to America's Warriors, a collection of paintings honoring the military men and women who have served the country since the 9/11 terror attacks.

The book included portraits of more than 100 of the wounded vets Bush befriended since he left the White House.

At the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, his policy team works on healthcare and employment programs for veterans who often struggle with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury. The institute's Military Service Initiative focuses specifically on transitioning veterans into lives as civilians.

Speaking to PEOPLE for his 2017 book's release, Bush said he hoped to convey a message that mental health was a top priority for veterans.

"A lot of these vets get stigmatized and they say, 'I don't want anybody to know I'm struggling.' You can't help a person who is not willing to be helped," he said then. "My message is that it's courageous to talk about your injuries — those you can see and those you can't see."

Bush hosts his own athletic events for wounded vets: an annual 100-kilometer mountain bike ride called the Warrior 100K and a competitive golf tournament called the Warrior Open. Both events are meant to highlight the resilience of veterans and to underscore the importance of sports rehabilitation for those injured on the front lines.