The Bike Literally Saved Joel’s Life
When Joel agreed to share his amazing and captivating story of how the bike saved him from taking his own life, I knew right away that this was going to be something that our readers would find so compelling.
I’m honored to present this very personal post by our newest Loving the Bike team member, Joel. He’ll be an ongoing contributor on the site, and we’re kicking things off with a big one. What Joel has accomplished over the past couple years has Make it Happen written all over it.
The Bike Saved My Life
by Joel Phillips
Every chance I have, I talk about how the bicycle gave me my life back and the joy it continues to bring. A couple years ago, I dropped a story on Loving the Bike entitled “Rediscovered Passion”. Darryl personally reached out to me because 1) He supports anyone that rides a bicycle, and 2) he liked my writing style.
In that story I paint a picture around the story of getting my first bicycle on my fourth birthday and how exciting it was because a whole new world of possibilities opened up for me. I went on to talk about how I grew older and the bicycle gave way to the car, and I became progressively fatter. I refer to a conversation with a couple of doctors resulting in me agreeing to take up riding my bicycle as my form of exercise. I talk about how a ride along the Platte River near downtown Denver ignited a spark and I decided to make it my life’s work to get more people to ride bicycles. It’s true what they say, there are two sides to every story and I am finally able to admit this is, and put it to rest.
Like Paul Harvey said, “and now…the REST of the story”.
I put my bike, a red Diamond Back Accent EX, circa 1987, into my truck and took it to work. There, I leaned it against a wall on the dock outside of my office window, where it sat for about three months. The intent was to ride it at lunch and get some type of cardio workout, but it was easy to always talk myself out of riding. I was 377lbs at the time, (3 1/2 years ago) I was doing the job I had when I first started in printing, back in 1989, (shipping & receiving). I had, and still have the same wonderful wife, but I was stuck in a miserable story that left me deeply depressed. Then one particularly “bad” Monday, I decided Tuesday I would ride my bike along the Platte River towards downtown Denver. So…that night I got everything ready for the ride at lunch the next day.
My wife left for work before I did, so we kissed goodbye and I gave her a little extra with the hug, I could see in her eyes she sensed something different. Charlie was in his bed, on a chair, in our bedroom window and I caught a glimpse of him as I tossed my backpack of stuff for the ride on the passenger seat of my truck. In the backpack there was nothing any cyclist would ever take on a ride. However this wasn’t just any ride for me, I had decided it would be my last ride. In my backpack was a note of apology to all of those I felt I had hurt during my life, along with a loaded 9mm handgun. I was going to ride my bike to a secluded spot along the Platte River trail and end my life. I could see no other solution and just wanted the heartache and misery to end.
As I rode past Mile High Stadium and made the turn north where the path parallels Eltich Gardens (local amusement park) I remember feeling the burning in my legs as the trail went from flat to sloped, the water in the river seemed louder, making it’s presence known. Then those feelings I had as a little kid, when I got my first bike, came back; not just bits and pieces, but like a flash flood. For the first time in a LONG time I felt alive! I could feel my heart pounding and my breathing was very heavy as I rolled my 377lb frame into Confluence Park. I stopped and took in what I was seeing, the Platte River and Cherry Creek converging, the Rocky Mountains towering above the horizon, beyond the cityscape. My bicycle had breathed the will to live back into my soul.
That ride along the river led to me taking charge of my life. I am not going to say life’s been a downhill-ride ever since, because it hasn’t…but I sure learned how to endure the climbs, and the views at the top are always spectacular. Today I am 274lbs, I rode in a multi-day bicycle tour through the mountains of Colorado, I became a certified ride instructor and most exciting, I am the founder of an organization that will deliver, and manage, a community-wide bike sharing system to Arapahoe County. Along the way I have made friends throughout the world and even discovered a couple of sisters I didn’t realize I had…(wink, wink Krissy & Julie). To say the bicycle has left me touched, moved and inspired seems like an understatement; for it has also restored my integrity and opened my eyes not only to a new world of possibilities, but a world where anything is possible.
I don’t pretend to have any of the answers, but I do know that if you keep pedaling you will get to where you are going.
Happy Riding my friends and please, share the joy you feel on your bike, it may just save a life.