Monday, July 22, 2013

Reasons2Ride: One Man’s Story on How Riding a Bike Saved His Life

Re-posted here with permission from the American Association of Suicidology

Guest Author: Joel Phillips

Flash back to late fall of 2009, I tip the scale at 377lbs…I am employed as a shipping clerk for a printing company, the same type of job I held when I entered into the printing industry in 1989.  In the wake of my journey through life thus far are a failed sales career, divorce, bankruptcy and bouts with paralyzing depression.  My gall bladder has just been removed and my doctors are insisting I do something about my weight and general physical fitness. 

After quite a colorful discussion, I agree to start riding my bicycle during lunch.  The next day I put my bike, a red Diamond Back Accent EX, circa 1987, into my truck and take it to work.  There, I lean it against a wall on the dock outside of my office window, where it sat for about three months.  The intent was to ride it at lunch and get some type of cardio workout, but it was easy to always talk myself out of riding.  Then, one particularly “bad” Monday, I decided Tuesday I would ride my bike at lunch, so…that Monday night I got everything ready for the ride at lunch the next day.

My wife left for work before I did, we kissed goodbye and I gave her a little extra with the hug, I could see in her eyes she sensed something different.  Charlie, my Boston terrier, was in his bed, on a chair, in our bedroom window and I caught a glimpse of him as I tossed my backpack of stuff for the ride on the passenger seat of my truck.  In the backpack there was nothing any cyclist would ever take on a ride.  However this wasn’t just any ride for me, I had decided it would be my last ride.  In my backpack was a note of apology to all of those I felt I had hurt during my life, along with a loaded 9mm handgun.  I was going to ride my bike to a secluded spot along the Platte River trail and end my life.  I could see no other solution and just wanted the heartache and misery to end.

As I rode past Mile High Stadium and made the turn north where the path parallels Elitch Gardens, I remember feeling the burning in my legs and chest as the trail went from flat to sloped, the water in the river seemed louder, making it’s presence known.  Then feelings I had as a little kid, when I got my first bike, came back; not just bits and pieces, but like a flash flood.  For the first time in a LONG time I felt alive!  I could feel my heart pounding and my breathing was very heavy as I rolled my 377lb frame into Confluence Park.  I stopped and took in what I was seeing, the Platte River and Cherry Creek converging, the Rocky Mountains towering above the horizon, beyond the cityscape.  My bicycle had breathed the will to live back into my soul, and opened my eyes not only to a new world of possibilities, but a world where anything is possible.  

Today, I am joyfully alive, 100 pounds lighter and deeply passionate about empowering others to choose life and health by finding the joy still living within their hearts.  When I am not teaching spin classes at About Time Fitness, I am the Founder and Executive Director of the newly formed non-profit, Arapahoe County B-cycle and associated for profit marketing business, Reasons2Ride.   However, we are creating much more than just a bike sharing program and encouragement to ride.  The organizations are about giving people inspirational and motivational reasons to move and at the same time connect with each other and with local businesses.  The goal is to offer programs and services that create not only an inspired, healthy and mentally fit society but also hope, connectedness, economic stability and common unity in our local community.  Beyond just a bicycle program, the vision is to inspire new possibilities for living joyfully.

To say the bicycle has left me touched, moved and inspired is an understatement; for it has truly been my vehicle for personal transformation.  I chose life three and a half years ago and now I am living a life I could never imagine.  It’s not been easy, like riding a bicycle, there always seems to be hills to climb, yet if you keep pedaling no mountain is too steep.

Pure Joy” self-portrait taken in the morning on day 2 of 2012 Ride the Rockie…before any REAL climbing began

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