Amy Donaldson: Cyclists ride to raise awareness, offer hope about mental illness
"He didn't quite have that same zip," said Sadowski. A few times during Sadowski's commute, he saw his old friend, still battling his weight gain, out there on the road.
"He was out there exercising," he said of Ludlow's desire to fight depression with physical activity. "He had a passion for cycling. He was doing what he loved best."
It wasn't until April 2009 that Sadowski's wife told Sadowski she'd heard Ludlow had passed away that previous December. He was stunned. "I thought, 'When did this happen? How did I miss it?'" said Sadowski.
He called a mutual cycling friend who'd spoken at the funeral. That's when he learned Ludlow had successfully taken his own life at his home in early December. Sadowski's sadness turned to resolve when he decided that it wasn't too late to do something for his friend.
He organized that first ride as a way to honor Ludlow, and what better way to do that than in the saddle? He kept organizing it because friends and family found solace and comfort riding in Ludlow's memory. It gave them a chance to talk about him, remember his accomplishments, and feel a little of his passion for the sport.
It became clear to Sadowski that there was more happening at these gatherings than exercise and storytelling. A couple showed up at registration one year and told him how they'd lost a child to suicide. They'd never cycled before, but they were looking for a place to express their grief in a positive way. They were looking to talk to people who understood their loss, their pain, and the stigma associated with mental illness.
The third year, Sadowski hoped to make enough money to donate to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Utah chapter. He ended up donating his own money, but last year they made enough money to donate to the organization.
Suddenly his small ride was growing into a movement. Last winter, a NAMI official who coordinates fundraising cycling events around the country contacted him and asked him to make his event part of their circuit. He was thrilled to work with an organization that might be able to offer more than comfort to people struggling with mental illness and their families.
This year, the event's name has been changed to reflect their greater mission: NAMIBikes Utah: The GLMR. The lengthy name makes Sadowski laugh, and he felt compelled to tell former participants that they can still refer to the July 27th event as the "glimmer."
Sadowski hopes the ride, which has three different lengths for participants: 42 miles, 68 miles (a metric century) and 100 miles (a full century). Their motto is simple: Fight the stigma and ride. Professional cyclist Chase Pinkham from Team Bissell will give up competing in a race to ride with participants, Sadowski said.
"He understands the value of our cause," he said. "We want people suffering from mental illness to know there is hope. There is help out there. It's OK to talk about it, and that will allow others to help."
If riding a bike can bring relief, understanding and healing, Sadowski hopes the conversations that occur will bring real help, real solutions to those struggling with misunderstood illnesses.
He is the first to admit people don't understand mental illness and don't know what to say. So many of us end up saying nothing. Sometimes we walk away from the person. People struggling with these diseases feel alone because sometimes we leave them alone.
Fear and shame create a rift when we should be desperately building bridges.
"There's a stigma associated with mental illness and that leads to people feeling ostracized," Sadowski said. "I want them to know they're not alone, that there is hope, there is help."
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