Amy Donaldson: Cyclists ride to raise awareness, offer hope about mental illness

Published: Sunday, July 7 2013 2:10 p.m. MDT

PROVO — Stan Sadowski didn't know an old friend had taken his own life until months after it happened.

He was overwhelmed with grief, but had no way to express it.

"I didn't even get to go to the funeral," he said. "I had no closure."

So he did what he and Gary Ludlow might have done together — he gathered some cycling friends and went on a long, hard ride.

"We wanted to remember Gary, to honor him," said Sadowski of the first Gary Ludlow Memorial Ride five years ago, which included Ludlow's siblings, wife and most of his eight children. "I think it gave his children a better appreciation for Gary."

That's because Ludlow was happiest on a bike. A cross-country runner at UCLA, the American Fork man discovered as a college student both a passion and a talent for cycling.

Ludlow finished second in the California championship and completed the LOTOJA (Logan to Jackson) several times, including one trip in less than nine hours.

"He was remarkable," said Sadowski, who found his way to cycling after knee surgery made it impossible for him to continue running.

Sadowski's first ride was from Provo to Springville for ice cream.

"I thought, 'I can do this. I just love this!'" he said. "That was 1985 and I've been riding ever since."

Sadowski and his wife met the Ludlows when all of them were newly married couples, most just out of college. While Gary Ludlow graduated from UCLA, Sadowski was a BYU alum. They were friends for years before Sadowski invited Ludlow to join him and some other friends on an evening bike ride. Ludlow said he might not make the ride as he had to work late, but assured him he'd try.

"He wasn't there when we started," said Sadowski. A few miles into the ride, they saw a lone rider behind them. Sadowski and his companion made it their goal to not let this rider pass them. When the man eventually caught them, it was Ludlow.

"He said, 'Why are you riding so fast?'" Sadowski recalled laughing. "He was phenomenal. He tried to get me into racing, but I just wasn't comfortable in a peloton. But that's where he was at home."

They went on long rides on weekends until Ludlow moved to American Fork and the Sadowskis moved to north Provo. They still met up several times a year for rides, but Sadowski said he never knew Ludlow struggled with depression until a few years before his death in December 2008.

"I'd heard he had an accident and was in the hospital," Sadowski said. "I called him and he said, 'No, don't come and see me. You don't want to see me.' I said, 'OK, I'll respect that.'"

It wasn't until Ludlow was at home recovering that Sadowski was able to go see him.

"He looked terrible," said Sadowski. He looked dazed, and he'd gained weight. "That's when he told me it wasn't a cycling accident," said Sadowski. "He said, 'I tried to take my own life.' He told me about suffering from depression."

While there was some family history, Ludlow told Sadowski he believed it never bothered him because of his cycling. His theory was that it became more debilitating after a cycling accident in which he crashed into a pole and had to be hospitalized.

Medication was now part of his daily life, but Ludlow was committed to continue cycling. When Sadowski asked how he could help, Ludlow asked him to ride with him. They met up for a couple of rides, but Ludlow was not the same athlete.

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