I remember John Wordin from years ago as the directer of the then Mercury Cycling Team. There was a television documentary back then that followed the team over the course of the season. It showed the riders in their unvarnished state between races, during races, and the euphoria, the travails and the sometimes mundane existence of an American domestic cycling team. It is perhaps forever lost, because even Google and You Tube can’t seem to resurrect it, but it was a wonderful – maybe one of the first -inside and insightful look on what being on a domestic professional cycling team is truly like.
I don’t remember much of the details, who won what and when, but one scene remains with me. I remember John Wordin, and I remember this look of utter dejection and disbelief on his face when informed by telephone that Mercury had been snubbed in its bid to be granted an invite to that year’s Tour de France. Anyone who was watching, which, in actuality was me and my roommate at the time, would have been convinced that this was the result of corrupt Eurocentric patronage. The team, in the course of the season, had a proven track record with talented riders such as a young Floyd Landis, and being a domestic American squad in The Tour was Wordin’s goal. But it was not to be, and the team disbanded shortly thereafter.
When I first learned about Ride 2 Recovery and about its genesis, I was reintroduced to that name. I remembered him, and I remember Mercury, and I remember the sometimes abrasive determination he showed to keep it all together. I also learned why he chose to start Ride 2 Recovery. It was borne out of a very personal experience. There was a young soldier he was close to, recently returned from combat, who felt so disconnected and isolated from the world he came back to that he took his own life. We can perhaps accept, understand, death from injury. But, the internal despair and hopelessness and feeling that something is so mentally not right that it compels someone to finish what a determined enemy in combat could not is hard to fathom.
Cycling is the therapy, both for the mental health illnesses that servicemen and women face, and the physical.
What helped me in understanding a little better how PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury actually do affect people came when reading the personal narrative of Jennifer Goodbody here. What she was describing, though triggered by specific psychologically traumatic events, sounds eerily similar to the symptoms of depression and despair that affect a shockingly growing segment of our population. I was reminded immediately of a news article I came across a few months ago that described a kind of watershed moment in our country’s history of mortality. Car accidents and heart attacks for so long were the leading causes of death in this country that it was almost a standard by which statistical significance has been measures euphemistically. “The number of people who die by cause X is not all that significant when you compare to the number of people who die in car wrecks.” Well, car accidents are no longer the leading cause of death in this country. For the first time, suicide is the leading cause of death in the United States, and it has been on the steady incline for the last decade. And it is not isolated to the young, or the old and sick. Suicide rates have risen most dramatically amongst the Baby Boomers, those between the ages of 45 and 65; those in their peak earning years, with careers and most separated from hunger and poverty and want, aside from perhaps the soul.
We can speculate on the root causes: loneliness, anomie in an increasingly plugged in and impersonal world, the dissolution of community, the erosion or decline in participation in those social institutions such as churches which reinforced shared identity and community, Facebook – the list can be endless – but what can help? In Ms. Goodbody’s case, cycling is essential for her health, and it is for these same reasons that it is healthy for all of us. It provides the same things for us that make it therapeutic for Ms. Goodbody. It makes us stronger physically and mentally. It requires a certain measure of mental toughness and goal attainment. It gives people a purpose. Physiologically it helps. We develop new social groups and real relationships and communities and social support systems and new found identities that coalesce around cycling. Those positive physical and social activities we do help us all heal.