Well before I started mountain bike coaching I'd thought a lot about how much riding out on the trails had helped me. Not just from a physical fitness perspective, mind you but from a mental health perspective as well (I'll touch on that journey another time). During that time of contemplation I routinely thought about how great it would be if I could share with others how much mountain bike riding could help others suffering from mental health issues and other life challenges.
Fast forward several years to when I'd started coaching and I found that I didn't often run into people on the trails that were struggling with depression, although admittedly it's not something that we who battle with mental health routinely discuss while riding. It was a different group of people that I discovered, who fought an equally if not greater life struggle. Those that had survived situations of domestic violence.
I don't think I really need to explain to anyone what domestic violence is. Physical or emotional, it is just one of those aspects of life that we all wish didn't exist and for many of us, are lucky never to have experienced. But the fact is that I've had more than a few people affected by the problem attend the small number of mountain bike classes that I've held. That in itself speaks volumes about how large the issue is, as well as how much of it goes unseen.
Domestic violence doesn't discriminate. Men and women, adults and children - it can and does impact the lives of so many people throughout society. And it's altogether possible that you know or are aware of someone who has been affected by this terrible problem. A problem that at its most sinister level, can seriously affect the safety of individuals and even groups of people - families members in particular. I'm sure we've all heard of horror stories of what happens in the worst case scenario.
And yet, in many cases the signs of domestic violence aren't obvious or are well hidden from view. Victims can find it difficult to ask for help, for fear of what might happen to them, or what others might think about them. Often this is compounded by mental health issues that occur as a result of the environment that has been thrust upon them. And as terrible as all of this might sound, you can never really understand what people are feeling unless you've truly been in the situation yourself. What people really experience is likely to be far worse than anything we can imagine.
There are those that do manage to escape their terrible situations though. If they are lucky, they're able to do so while maintaining sufficient assets and possessions to rebuild their lives. A lot of domestic violence survivors however aren't so fortunate, having to leave much of what they owned in their previous lives to escape to the safety of a new one.
For the survivors of domestic violence that I've had the privilege of meeting and helping build up their confidence on the trails, I've seen first hand the positive impact that mountain bike riding has had on their lives. Rediscovering their independence, associating with supportive groups of people and learning what they're truly capable of - these are just a few of the things I've observed while riding with people impacted by this problem.
Knowing now how widespread the domestic violence problem is, I believe it's something that we can all contribute to helping with, at the very least with getting people back on their feet. So in the spirit of providing support to people affected by domestic violence I'll be restarting mountain bike tours that support survivors of domestic violence by donating the funds raised from specific tours to Friends with Dignity.
Friends with Dignity is a volunteer based not-for-profit registered charity that provides practical programs to assist survivors of domestic violence in collaboration with refuge and crisis centres. They're an organisation comprising of a passionate team of volunteers that gift their Programs unconditionally to the men, women and children we assist. You can learn more about them by clicking on the link at the beginning of this paragraph.
It might not be much, but I'm sure every little bit helps and that the people receiving the support and assistance are incredibly grateful. I'll be starting off with a tour out to Lost World on Saturday, 13th of June so if you're up for helping Friends with Dignity to support survivors of domestic violence, come along on the next Lost World Tour.