Riding To Restore Hope

May 22, 2022

In 2019, a group of six friends from the Boston area—all women, all mothers—signed up for the third annual Ride for Mental Health. That first year, it was all about a ‘women’s weekend’ and getting away from the responsibilities of daily life. They decided to tackle the 25-mile route—some with more trepidation than others.

The experience was transformative. Spectacular weather, extraordinary vistas and an expertly organized event made them eager to do it again.

When the pandemic hit, Ride Founder Mac Dorris pivoted, rebranding the 2020 event to Together…Apart and launching a club on the popular app Strava. The six friends masked up and did their rides virtually, this time completing 50 miles and raising funds as part of Team McLean.

“It started as a lark. I didn’t even have a decent bike. But I wanted to challenge myself and support my friend who works at McLean,” explained Christine. “This will be our fourth year participating and now it’s personal for me. A loved one had a crisis and needed emergency psychiatric care last year. It was terrifying and hit home how critical it is to have access to good treatment. I have a renewed enthusiasm and appreciation for this event now.”

Monitoring the pandemic carefully, Dorris brought back a hybrid version of the Ride in 2021, inviting cyclists to join him in person in New Paltz, New York.

Some opted to stick with the virtual effort, but the group of friends were determined to make a weekend of it. And, like Christine, the others were finding their own personal answers to “why we ride.”

In the months between Rides, there were intense conversations about the prevalence of mental illness and an increasing awareness that each one of them had a story to tell and a motivation to keep on riding.

Bicyclists in blue shirts pose for picture
At the starting line in 2021 and ready to ride

“The pandemic has had such an impact on mental health. I see that in my own family. I see it in my kids, my nieces and nephews, and my friends—so many people are struggling and it’s hard to find help right now,” said Liane, another one of the group.

“There’s not much I can do on my own, but by joining the Ride, I’m part of the solution. I’m raising much-needed funds that will have an impact on real people. And training to ride 50 miles on those hills is good for my own mental health!”

The Ride was established in 2017 by Dorris in memory of his late son Eric, who struggled with mental illness. A passionate cyclist, Dorris hoped he could channel his grief into the event while raising funds for McLean. Now in its sixth year, The Ride has blossomed into a much-anticipated annual event for hundreds of cyclists of every skill level.

“This event has turned into a wonderful, healing experience for so many. From the beginning, we’ve used the term ‘ride away the stigma’ and I’ve loved watching relationships build over candid conversations about mental illness,” said Dorris.

To date, the Ride has raised more than $800,000 for McLean, and these funds fuel a range of initiatives across the hospital, including access to clinical care for young people, scholarships for patients and families struggling to pay for treatment, opportunities for young researchers to pursue new ideas, and support for critical capital needs on campus.

Most recently, Dorris opted to direct some of the Ride’s proceeds to support a summer research internship program aimed at increasing opportunities for college students of color to pursue careers in neuroscience.

The 2022 Ride, scheduled for June 25 and 26, is gearing up to hit some impressive milestones. Dorris is determined to crest the $1 million mark in support for McLean and wants to register 600 or more cyclists.

As soon as registration opened, all six women signed up again—and they’ve welcomed a seventh into the fold. It’s a tradition now. They’re itching to get out on their bikes and are looking forward to heading to New Paltz in June. In the meantime, they’ll be talking openly about mental illness, supporting each other, and raising funds to support McLean.

“This year feels especially critical,” said Beth. “Never before have I seen so many people in my life struggle with anxiety and depression. Navigating the loneliness and isolation of the pandemic has been extraordinarily hard. I ride to restore hope knowing that McLean will use these funds to find more ways to help those who are suffering.”

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