The ride took us passed the place on the river where Mum found the peace she was looking for.

The Cycle Against Stigma was an idea proposed by Celeste from What’s Your Story, to Mel from Charles Sturt Youth Central, and was some time in the planning and building. Mel decided that if it was to be a cycling related project, best bring in a cyclist who would be willing to help out delivering the event, so she sent me an email invitation to a meeting to discuss the proposal, and draw up some rough outlines for an event.

Celeste brought in her mentor, Mary, from Catch My Drift, and suddenly a committee was formed!! the original thought was to stage the ride earlier in the year, but it needed a little more time to flesh it out, and we agreed that to achieve what we wanted, it would be better to have the ride coincide with World Suicide Prevention Day, and so the date was chosen. This then allowed us plenty of time to do all of the things that need to be done when staging an event, the work that many people don’t see when they turn up to take part in a ride.

We needed money of course, so thankfully Mel had some budget available for youth related events that we were able to tap in to, which saved us attempting to source external grant funding. We then needed to agree on where we would ride to and from, Celeste liked the idea of riding along the river, so it was pretty easy from there to decide that the best sections would be Adam St carpark to Henley Square, a ride of just under 12km, so easily achievable for families, which is what we wanted to have as one of the outcomes.

Next we needed to decide on some entertainment to have available at Henley Square. Mary suggested we get the Amazing Drumming Monkees and Nina V for musical entertainment, and Mel had a number of face painters on her lists from previous events, so we were set, and they were within the budget available from Mel and Council So, now we had music to create atmosphere, and face painting for the kids. We spoke about food, but to introduce food preparation and serving at an event, creates a whole lot more work, not just in doing it, but getting volunteers trained in safe food handling techniques, money handling, and a few other logistical issues that we decided did not provide any benefit to what we were really trying to achieve.

We also did not want to put the local traders in the square offside by selling food on their front door, so instead decided that we would skip this idea, but have a few healthy options available. Celeste organised for some donations of a variety of muffins, and Mel sourced some fresh fruit as another option for participants. We also had water bottles supplied from SA Water and Bendigo Bank to give away to participants, just to make sure they stayed hydrated on the ride.

So we had food, we had water, we had entertainment, now we needed some information for the participants, and something else to interest them whilst they were at the Square, so we sent some invitations out. BeyondBlue, because they are more an online organisation, could not have anyone on site, but they did supply us with lots of wrist bands and information on depression. Sarah Wiliamson and some of her team from It’s No Secret joined us with a representative from Lifeline, and had an enormous marquee to share their information from. Romina from CanTeen joined us with her amazing tablecloth of bandannas. I wanted CanTeen there as I could see a synergy between the young people with cancer and mental health issues.

We also had MOSH, GROW, and Silent Ripples join us, Catch My Drift had a table, and the Charles Sturt Youth Advisory Committee, (YAC), also had a table with information not just about them, but a stack of cycling information supplied by the Department of Planning, Transport and infrastructure.

Behind the scenes of events, there are all sorts of administrative things that just have to be done, besides the obvious ones already mentioned above. We needed to have a risk management plan, all of the volunteers from Catch My Drift had to be registered as volunteers of Council so that they could be covered by insurance, and all of the stall holders also had to be covered by insurance. Mel has amazing organisation skills, and managed to keep it all running smoothly and on time thankfully!

All of us had been promoting the event on all of the social media platforms, and it looked like it was going to be a fantastic crowd. Again for risk management purposes, it was agreed that we needed to get participants to register, just in case someone got hurt during the ride. By registering, they would be covered under our public liability insurance. It’s incredible when you think about all of the things that have to be done, just to stage a bike ride safely! All of the volunteers had to be registered as volunteers with Council, again to protect them, and the organisations they were volunteering from.

So the day arrived, and thankfully, none of the bad weather contingencies we had planned needed to be put in action. The weather was perfect. Sarah and I started our day off with a rather hurried breakfast at Henley Square, as I wanted to start my day from there, just so I could catch up with the volunteers on site there, and make sure that there were no last minute requirements. I should have known that with Mel on site, everything would be under control and running to clockwork, which it was! So I grabbed my bike, and pedalled my way back up the river to the start point, putting up posters and flyers on the way, just to make sure participants kept on the right path.

I was quite tickled when I got to Adam Street, and there were already a lot of friends gathering, ready to sign up and join in. Deb and a couple of her volunteers were manning the registration desk, and getting the riders signed in, and Celeste and her team were distributing water bottles and wrist bands as people registered. Channel 7 turned up for a bit and did some interviews and filming, but I’m really not sure if any of it made the newsreel, or it all hit the editing room floor! No matter, we had achieved what we really wanted without tv coverage.

We ended up with about 100 cyclists joining in on the ride, on all sorts of bikes, across all of the age groups, which was fantastic to seee. It was really important to us to see that people actually did see the social media campaign that we ran on it, and it was heartening for me especially to know that the message I had been putting out had reached such a large audience. The online feedback on where participants heard about the event reinforced that.

The ride itself was fantastic, the River is always a beautiful ride, and all of the particpants respected each other on the ride, and also the other users of the path, so we had no conflicts, and everyone had a great ride. There were some who were not as fit as they thought they might be, so the facilities along the river of benches, playgrounds and drinking fountains certainly came in handy! I took a bit of time out from the ride when I got to Lockleys, as even though our ride was on the opposite side to where Mum suicided, I still like to stop there occasionally and say hi to her. Funny huh?

The finish of the ride was excellent. We had booked out the entire Henley Square, and Mel had set up one of the Council Marquees for the entertainers to perform from, just in case the weather turned! As it was such an amazing day weather wise, there were already a number of just casual visitors to the Square, but as the entertainment started, the numbers continued to grow, and we would have had at least another 200 members of the public come through and join in on the entertainment, and sek help and support from the various services we had set up there.

I received much feedback of the day, from friends old and new, but I think one of the most significant was from Sarah from It’s No Secret. A family had approached her, and they had another family member who needed support, and Sarah was able to provide them with everything that they needed there and then. Maybe it was just the environment, or the significance of the day, but people really did feel comfortable talking with each other about various issues, and to know that someone who needed help was able to get the help they needed right there and then. This was truly rewarding.

There were some speeches made, and even I managed to try and get some coherent words out, generally though trying to reinforce the message that it is ok to talk about suicide, and that it is ok to ask someone if they are ok. Those few little words may be just the words that person needs to hear, but if you ask them, please make sure you are prepared to listen, and not make judgement on what you might hear from them.

I only have one regret from the day, that I did not know about until the following week. A mate, who is a great bloke and fellow cyclist, had attempted suicide a few days prior, and was in hospital getting treatment at that time. It is good to know though that when you need it, the system does work, and he is in the right place, getting the help he needs, and surrounded by loving family and friends. Get better soon mate.

So, the ride was a huge success, and like with all first time events, lessons were learned on where we could improve things, and what else we can do. Will we stage it again? Yes. The Cycle Against Stigma will happen again in 2013, and it will be every bit as good again, and continue to pump the message out there, and do our bit to reduce the stigma associated with suicide, and try to get people talking openly, and getting them in touch with the support services that they need.

Keep the rubber side down,

Smudge!