The Bike Literally Saved Joel’s Life

29
Apr
2013

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.

 Denver Cycling

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.

Joel Reasons2RideThat 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.

Enjoy Your Ride

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  • BrokenAnd Sad

    Joel,

    My life is day-to-day, as I struggle with how my life, and my heart, has been broken. Your post gave me a bit of strength, and I am trying to let my bike save me . . .

    You are an inspiration to many, and I thank you for your courage to keep going for your family and friends. Please keep me in your thoughts as I am trying to stay strong.

    • http://www.reasons2ride.com/ Joel Phillips

      BrokenAnd Sad,

      You have touched my heart very deeply and I want you to know something, there is someone in the world cheering very loudly for you and that somebody is me, but I am not the only one, there are others that may read this comment and my response who will also be on your side.

      Believe in yourself my friend, let the simplest of lessons the bike teaches us guide you right now, keep pedaling and you will get to where you want to go, no matter how steep the hill in front of you might get. You are stronger than you can ever imagine, and I applaud you for sharing with me and this community as you have so courageously done.

      When you arise in the morning,
      think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive
      - to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.
      Marcus Aurelius

      Peace be with you my friend.

      Happy Riding.

    • http://lovingthebike.com Darryl is Loving the Bike

      I’m so happy that Joel’s story has helped given you strength. Just keep taking things in bite sized pieces. Focus on the moment and if it helps…find comfort in the bike. We’re here for you.

  • http://www.bant-shirts.com BanTshirts

    Your wife must be very happy. Thanks for sharing that amazing story and for showing people how something as simple as a bicycle ride can change how you see things. RIDE ON!!

    • http://www.reasons2ride.com/ Joel Phillips

      My wife is happy…but I am indeed the lucky one in the relationship! Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, I really appreciate what you have to say and am glad you find joy in cycling…Ride On indeed!

  • http://twitter.com/thetrailmayor Trail Mayor NC

    Joel, thank you for your courage to share your story! My prayer is that you will continue to discover why the Lord has changed your heart and mind and you will gain wisdom everyday on how He wants to use you. If you are ever traveling the coastal NC or SC, please consider looking me up.

    • http://www.reasons2ride.com/ Joel Phillips

      FIrst off, I really dig the name Trail Mayor, totally cool. Secondly, thank you for your kind words, they are indeed encouraging and I appreciate you sharing with me. I promise if I am ever in coastal NC or SC i will look you up, I would be honored to ride a trail with the mayor.

      Peace be with you,

      Joel

  • dooge

    This brought a tear to my eye. As someone who had a similar experience I feel happy for you and just know that you are NEVER alone

    • http://www.reasons2ride.com/ Joel Phillips

      I am touched dooge, thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

  • http://twitter.com/CyclinLibrarian Krissy Nelson

    I’m with Julie on this, bro. Your sis is tearing up big time. I tell you this often, and I mean it every single time 100%- I am SO proud of you! You’ve had to face obstacles in your life that were not only difficult, but extremely painful, and you have overcome them. One of my favorite quotes is “your biggest set BACK, is God’s set UP for your COMEBACK” and that couldn’t be more true for your story. It takes an enormous amount of bravery for you to share this story with people, but by doing so, you are going to save lives- and that’s a fact.

    To a lot of people, a bike is just that- a bike; but I tend to think those are the people who’ve not yet got on one and pedaled along for a bit. In reality, a bike can be an escape, a therapist, an outlet for energy or steam you need to blow off. For me, it is all of these things and it’s a lifesaver. As people, we carry pain and hurt around with us, and when it isn’t dealt with or handled, that pain can lead to a world of self destruction- that’s where the bike really came in for me.

    Everyday, you need to know that you are WORTH IT, Joel. Look at all the amazing things you have accomplished just in the past year alone! It’s wonderful! You’ve done more good for others and more positive progression in your life over this year than some will ever achieve in a lifetime, and THAT is something to be extremely proud about.

    Wanna know the cool part? This is only just the beginning for you! How cool is that?! Your talents are being used as an instrument to do God’s work everyday, right here. The people you help, the lives you touch- that’s no coincidence, Joel. We are all born with gifts perfectly placed inside all of us that are meant to be used to help people; to do good, and YOU, my big brother, are doing just that!!

    I love you, and I’m so blessed to have you as my brother. :)

    • http://www.reasons2ride.com/ Joel Phillips

      Very few times have I ever been rendered speechless, you blow me away sis, I love you more than words can say and I am truly blessed to have you as a little sister. Thank you for everything.

  • http://twitter.com/Hieberrr Hiep Nguyen

    Absolutely lovely story. I am glad that you found something that has changed your life in such a positive way. Thank you so much for sharing this Joel.

    • http://www.reasons2ride.com/ Joel Phillips

      Thank you Hiep, I appreciate your comments.

  • http://www.facebook.com/m.beaky73 Mark Beaconsfield

    Joel. That brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing your story with us. Kudos on dropping the weight. Not just physically, but the weight that you were carrying mentally. Keep on encouraging and inspiring others to ride.

    • http://www.reasons2ride.com/ Joel Phillips

      Mark, thank you so much for these kind words and brother I am all-in, I will always encourage others to ride. Peace my friend.

  • Joeshmoe

    joel, my name is joe i ride to work and back home 5days a week. On that same trail you talk about (the platte river trail) I to decided i needed to change my life. after marriage and children the weight started to come up. As a kid I loved riding my bicycle and I wanted to experiance that same joy, and I do everytime I get on that bike. Its good to know there are others whos lives have changed because of the bike.

    • http://www.reasons2ride.com/ Joel Phillips

      Joe, no doubt we’ve passed each other on the trail, if you see me on my Specialized Cross-Trail, (usually pulling a dog in a trailer) give me a holler, I would be honored to meet you. Happy riding my friend.

  • Julie Starling

    Joel, I am so glad you found a reason to live! You are a wonderful, sweet soul with a lot to give to the world! Indeed, the world would be a poorer place without you. Keep on pedaling! I wish you miles of smiles!

    • http://www.reasons2ride.com/ Joel Phillips

      You are sweet Julie and I would love to ride with you some day.

      • Julie Starling

        That would be great! :-)

  • http://lovingthebike.com Darryl is Loving the Bike

    What a story, Joel….thanks for sharing it with all of us. It is so great to have you here with us….both as a Loving the Bike Teammate, and a fellow inhabitant of planet earth.
    I know there’s going to be a whole lot more great stories coming from you in the weeks to come.
    Darryl

    • http://www.reasons2ride.com/ Joel Phillips

      Thank you for giving me the space Darryl. I am honored to be able to contribute..

  • paulakiger

    Thank you for sharing your story — it is really incredible.

    • http://www.reasons2ride.com/ Joel Phillips

      You are most welcome.

  • http://twitter.com/BikeLaneEnds Dell Wilson

    Beautiful story, Joel. I know it’s not easy to talk about something like that. My story is similar although not as dramatic by degree. I simply woke up one day and realized that my job and my lifestyle was killing me. I was 50 lbs overweight and the stress of my job was shaving years from my life. My job is still as stressful, but getting back into cycling has made the past four years the best of my life. I would never have dreamed that I’d feel better about myself at 49 years old than 25, 30, or 35 years old.
    Keep fighting, Joel. Keep setting your goals higher and higher. We humans seems to be at our best when we fight. And thanks for having the courage to share your story.

    • http://www.reasons2ride.com/ Joel Phillips

      Thanks Dell, I promise to keep fighting and I am glad cycling has helped you in your life.

  • Bart

    Keep on keeping on, bro. Riding is incredibly therapeutic. Glad you’re doing better. :)

    • http://www.reasons2ride.com/ Joel Phillips

      Thank you Bart, happy riding my friend.

  • http://www.facebook.com/martha.a.boyd Martha Alejandrina Boyd

    Wow!! Simply wow, Joel!!! Im crying tears of joy because you are here with us and honored to be your friend. You are such an inspiration! Keep those wheels turning!!!!

    • http://julesmpg.blogspot.com Julesmpg

      Me too Marty, me too. I didn’t know this story until today.

    • http://www.reasons2ride.com/ Joel Phillips

      Marty you are an angel…but it’s you who inspires me, your genuine and true and that is awesome. It will be a wonderful day when our paths cross.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sarahlynnkopf Sarah Kopf

    This post is BEYOND beautiful! It was so brave of you to share it! To think that two wheels can have that kind of impact….but then, it’s not about the wheels is it? Of course not….

    I picked up a bike in the middle of my now 13 year old son’s second battle and fourth year with cancer- as a way to “get away.” I couldn’t hack it anymore. Life. The hospital. The chemo, The radiation. The torture my kiddo (and my husband and I) were enduring every day watching it happen. I needed to be able to clear my mind…

    I didn’t know it, but that cheap Trek road bike that I got from Ebay (of all places) for 500 bucks would pull me out of a deep, deep depression and truly show me what I was capable of… (I rode a century in Coles honor & raised 4,000 for leukemia research doing it last September!) It would help me shed 60 pounds (and counting.) It would speak to and inspire my husband and get him out on his bike. (He rode that century right next to me.) It would inspire Cole to start focusing on his life- and not his death or disease. He is completely in remission today and is, at the moment, THRIVING! He would later also take up riding on his Trek; a gift from a local bike shop.

    The bike would change my life, our lives, completely. And it has!

    Thanks again for sharing your story! Keep on keeping on—and hopefully someday I will see you out on the road!

    Sarah
    http://www.thinfluenced.com

    • http://www.reasons2ride.com/ Joel Phillips

      Sarah, I am deeply touched by your comment. Your Reasons2Ride are my most favorite reasons. There is no way I could even begin to express the joy I feel concerning the news about your son and I love how you share that passion. YOU are truly an inspiration and it would be an honor to ride with you.

      J

  • http://julesmpg.blogspot.com Julesmpg

    I am crying. I love you Bro and I am so thankful for the bikes that brought us together! I am so glad the bike saved your life and brought you to Krissy and I.

    • http://www.reasons2ride.com/ Joel Phillips

      Julie, all I can say is how blessed I feel. Love you sis.

      J

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