“The pervasive sentiment shared by all is that regardless of your personal journey and experiences with mental health, you are not alone.”
In 2017, when New York lawyer and avid cyclist Mac Dorris founded The Ride for Mental Health in New Paltz, New York, it was a way to find hope, healing and purpose after the sudden loss and tragedy of her son, Eric.
At this year’s event in June, 464 runners, along with sponsors, volunteers and virtual participants from around the world, helped bring the total amount raised for mental health services over 6 years to more than one million dollars.
The Ride for Mental Health this year presented a check for $235,000 — the largest to date — to McLean Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School and the nation’s No. 1-ranked psychiatric hospital.
In 5 years, the event has established itself as the first cycling fundraiser in the United States for the exclusive benefit of mental health. Held in New York’s scenic Hudson Valley, the weekend hike is like an annual homecoming for a growing community of kindred spirits, many of whom have inspiring and moving stories. Among them, again this year, Drs. Justine Kent and Danielle Coppola. The 2 friends, former colleagues and fellow physicians each have deeply personal motivations for participating.
Psychiatrist Justine Kent, MD, of Skillman, New Jersey, is the sister-in-law of event founder Mac Dorris. Her nephew, Eric, suffered from borderline personality disorder and other disorders and died aged 21 of an accidental overdose while an outpatient at McLean. For his brother-in-law Mac, The Ride helped pave the way for deep grief.
Kent works in clinical development for Merck, helping bring drug therapies to market for the treatment of specific psychiatric disorders, and has volunteered at The Ride since the inaugural event. She was joined this year by family members from Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina and Washington.
“What stands out about the Mental Health Ride is what a fun and happy occasion it is,” Kent said. “As well as bringing family and friends together, it’s a rare opportunity to have conversations about mental health in a positive and upbeat atmosphere, which adds to the sense of connection and camaraderie.” Kent also remarked on how the event has grown, with fully supported 50 and 100 mile routes, as well as shorter 25 mile routes and a family fun 14 mile route.
Kent’s good friend, internist Danielle Coppola, MD, added that The Ride is especially meaningful to volunteers and cyclists. “The pervasive sentiment shared by all is that regardless of your personal journey and experiences with mental health, you are not alone,” she said. “There is community, there is caring and there is support.” Coppola, who currently works in immunology drug safety at Janssen R&D, a pharmaceutical division of Johnson & Johnson, participates in The Ride as a volunteer and runner. She is driven by both her professional background and her family’s experiences with mental health.
Coppola has 2 sons in college, ages 19 and 20. One suffers from anxiety and the other from attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Coppola herself once had a depressive episode, stemming from feelings of isolation in a rocky marriage, which worsened while she was pregnant during the 9/11 attack. She says participating in The Ride, getting into nature and connecting with others in a goal-oriented environment provides a healing and growth experience. An internist at heart, she strongly believes that cyclists benefit holistically from their participation, as physical, mental and social well-being are so inextricably linked.
This spirit of hope, community and resilience has grown stronger each year in New Paltz, as more cyclists and volunteers come together to raise funds for education, research and the treatment of disease. mental.
Participants receive a custom-designed Hincapie cycling jersey and all riders, volunteers and sponsors are invited to enjoy a complementary barbecue dinner and live music on Saturday evening.
“Mac and his team have created a wonderful event that grows every year,” said Scott L. Rauch, MD, McLean president and chief psychiatrist. “We are deeply grateful to the Dorris family and all the riders and sponsors for their tremendous efforts.”
Registration for Ride for Mental Health 2023, scheduled for June 24-25, is now open at www.rideformentalhealth.org. Corporate and community organizations, teams and individuals can participate, in person or virtually, and create their own fundraising pages. Sponsorships for 2023 are available and volunteer inquiries are welcome. For more, follow The Ride on Instagram, Facebook, and Strava.
Mr. Upchurch is a public relations officer and journalist based in Raleigh, North Carolina. His work includes editorial support for nonprofit organizations including The Ride for Mental Health, Teen Cancer America, The V Foundation, Buddy Holly Educational Foundation and others.
Do you participate in a non-profit organization and want to share your story? If so, email us at PTEditor@MMHGroup.com.
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