Winter in Minnesota is composed of short days filled with cold and snow, and sometimes, air that is so cold that if you set a pair of wet pants outside, they’re liable to freeze as if an invisible human were wearing them. Cars refuse to start, roads are slick with black ice, and schools get delayed. Everything seems to slow down and settle into a quiet stillness.
Yet, despite it all, we find ways to thrive. We create hockey rinks in our backyards and parks, and drill holes in our lakes for ice fishing. Restaurants open outdoor ice bars, and cities hold winter carnivals complete with ice castles. As hardy Northerners, winter doesn’t slow us down, and nothing is a better example of that then our snowmobile community. From the first big snowfall to the last, snowmobile enthusiasts form clubs, groom trails, and enjoy fast rides through beautiful countryside. It’s a community full of camaraderie, fellowship, and fun.
For the past three years, the American Foundation for Suicide’s Minnesota Chapter has been fortunate to partner with a local club to raise awareness about suicide and mental health through our Ride to Fight Suicide Snowmobile Ride. This event is all about having fun on the trails, but it also is about one really big cause – letting others know it’s okay to not be okay. And although there are quite a few women involved the clubs, most of the club members and riders are men. This provides a unique opportunity for men (and women) to come together and remind one another that we all struggle sometimes, and that help is out there. This can be a difficult thing, especially for men, but events and opportunities like this help reduce the stigma around mental health and suicide.
As the Area Director for our AFSP Chapter in Minnesota, I get to work with some pretty amazing volunteers, and their experiences and stories are a continual inspiration and reminder as to why we do this work. Matt Coy, who helped organize this event, lost his son Wyatt to suicide a couple of years ago, and this ride is in his memory and honor. I asked Matt what makes this ride so important when it comes to mental health. He told me, “We humans have this fight or flight response thing. When faced with an uncomfortable or dangerous situation, we are predisposed to protect ourselves. Sometimes we protect ourselves by holding our ground, and sometimes we protect ourselves by running away and hiding. When it comes to suicide and mental health, elements in our culture have sometimes conditioned us to, predictably, run and hide. Events like this are important because, when bolstered by the presence of others, we are better equipped to stay and fight by encouraging people to be strong by reaching out for help when they need it. And if we can have a little fun in the process while making an impact – all the better.”
Events like the Ride to Fight Suicide Snowmobile Ride give us the chance to connect, and know that we are not alone. It’s fundraising, it’s awareness, and it’s connection, all wrapped up in a fun day in the snow. Together, we can see a brighter future and work towards a world without suicide. This year saw over 100 riders, great temps, and excellent trail conditions. Not to mention, we get a lot of "tough" guys to talk about their mental health – always a big positive!
“Nothing can bring my boy back,” Matt told me. “Nor can anything bring back the countless others who have lost their battle. But we can use the pain and the cost of our experiences to protect others against the same outcome. There’s a bit of comfort in that. And I’ll take any bit of comfort I can get.”
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