Seventeen years ago in March of 1996, Paul Rush took his own life. He was 34 years old. Stories like this are all too common in today’s society, but Paul’s story is remembered every year and celebrated in a fashion that he would have loved.
Paul Rush was a brother, son, friend and avid mountain biker, and suffered from depression. In memory of Paul’s life and love for mountain biking, his friends and family decided to put together a 100 km race—something he always dreamed of doing. Riders could also participate in a 60km, 30km and 15km race.
It was the September following his passing when his close friends, Monique and Rob Cox, held the first ever Paul’s Dirty Enduro. “He wanted to make it as hard as possible because that was the way Paul would have done it,” says Monique, referring to her husband mapping out the trail 17 years ago. “When he was marking, he would say: 'This way or that way?' Then he would say: ‘Well Paul would go that way.’ He would always go the hard way.” Monique and her husband ran the event for the first nine years.
The first event was small. Approximately 35 to 40 riders, mostly friends and family of Paul’s, took part in the event. Today that number has exploded. For this year's event on September 15th, there were more than 350 riders.
The money raised in the first year went to the Ganaraska forest to better the trails. What they didn’t anticipate was how large the event would become. It started out as a grass roots event with volunteers creating pamphlets, cooking food and mapping out the course. The essence of this has carried on throughout the years and will always remain.
“The emotion of it hasn’t really changed and when you sit around and see the people who have been here from the start and have that connectedness—that emotion that we felt initially, the grieving, the pain, the anguish that we felt," says Paul's sister Maureen. "But the fact is that Rob and Monique put something into action that allowed us all to be together to mourn and grieve—to do something that’s good for other reasons. It’s given us the opportunity to feel the sadness and to feel the loss but also feel that we can move ahead and move forward.”
In the second year, Monique approached the Canadian Mental Health Association in Peterborough looking for a better way to use the money they raised. “When Paul passed away it was really, really hard on all of us and it was really a matter of why did this happen,” says Monique. “The signs were there but it was all our ignorance that we did not recognize them. When we started educating ourselves and recognizing the pattern of a person who is mentally ill and needs help, we realized all the signs were there, but unlike the signs of a heart attack, which are all over the TV and news, there is nothing for mental health. So I approached the CMHA to see if they could join and if they could use the money raised by the event for education.”
The CMHA in Peterborough has been using the money raised every year to fund a number of programs around suicide prevention. Paul’s funds primarily support suicide information and education such as Suicide Survivor groups, making ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) affordable, free SafeTALK workshops, suicide training for police and Telecare. Some of the money also goes to mental illness education. This year’s event raised close to $15,000 in pledges.
The most unique aspect of this event is connecting suicide with a sport. “It shows that the face of suicide can be any face. I mean you’re looking at some very fit people, people who ride their bikes, are outdoors and are very engaged. But mental health issues are problems that can affect anyone,” says Maureen. “So this kind of breaks down the barrier that it’s not someone hiding off in their home, its people who are out and around you—it could be the person right next to you.”
The Rush family have had a number of people over the years approach them to say thank you for everything they have done around bringing suicide into the conversation. Suicide is something many people are afraid to talk about in public, but attitudes are starting to change as more people like the Rush family talk openly about their own experience to help educate the public about the signs of mental illness.
As a school teacher, Maureen is passionate about suicide prevention—especially within teens. “That’s the age where you really need to connect people with mental health issues so that they can recognize the signs for themselves and they can get help at that age so the pattern doesn’t continue throughout their adulthood and they get help as early as they can,” she says.
With the event now 17 years old, Maureen is confident that the next generation of family members will continue to carry it forward. “I think the awareness that youth have today regarding mental health issues has grown and it will be very easy to get a number of teenagers involved in the event,” she says. Her teenage children and their friends have already stepped up by volunteering at the event.
KT Misner and her partner Rick Willings, owners of Bloomfield Bicycle Co., located in Bloomfield, Ont. in Northumberland County, have been organizing the event alongside CMHA Peterborough since Monique stepped aside eight years ago. They have been part of the event since its inception and have been around to see its growth.
According to KT, the trail was developed specifically for this event, separate from the Ganaraska trail system. This course was nominated and named an IMBA (International Mountain Bike Association) Epic. “This designates the course as one that truly exemplifies the best way that a mountain bike race can be long,” says KT. It’s a non-competitive event and is considered a classic old school event. “It’s more catering towards the social aspect of riding.”
The stigma that surrounds mental health prevents many people from asking for help. One in four people in Canada will at some point experience a mental illness. Some professionals believe that number is closer to one in three due to the number of people who go undiagnosed. “It’s really easy to talk about cancer and heart disease and these types of things as things you want to destroy or work on research,” says KT. “Suicide affects as many young folks as all of those and nobody ever talks about it. Your average friend, like Paul Rush, just an average guy, can kill themselves. So this is a great way to get people to be aware of what this is doing and it also raises money so we can help out with prevention.”
“I remember the first few years driving out with my sister Mary Lou and we would leave at 6 a.m. and we would be driving out and seeing day breaking and thinking of Paul and thinking how meaningful this would be to him. It was heartbreaking at first to not see him ride off into the forest, but now to see others carry this on and to see the 100k happening is really quite remarkable and to know that it is something that will carry on.”
—photos and story by Kyle Dupont
This is Kyle Dupont's first piece for PtboCanada.com. Kyle is a Communications Officer with the Canadian Mental Health Association's Peterborough Branch and a freelance writer. Born and raised in Peterborough, Kyle is a recent graduate from New Brunswick Community College and he also holds a BA in History from Brock University. You can reach him here.