After his friend Simon’s suicide, Adam Mitchinson was grieving for both himself, and the family Simon left behind. Adam set himself the greatest challenge he’s ever faced in order to raise money for Simon’s children and the suicide-prevention charity CALM, and to honour his friend’s memory
I still vividly remember the night in February this year when we got the call to tell us that Simon had taken his life. It was the day before his 35th birthday.
My wife had received a message from a mutual friend asking her to call. It was late, so she thought she'd get back to her the next day, but it was a little out of the blue and there was something about the wording that made me think something bad had happened. But even then, I wasn’t prepared for the worst news possible.
We had the phone on speaker – I can picture the moment we were told he’d died – and I remember the gasp/cry/scream that came from my wife. I felt numb. It didn’t make any sense. I remember sitting in silence, listening as we heard that he’d taken his life. Then I thought of his two young boys, and suddenly it all seemed real.
I realised what a terrible a place he must have been in to have thought that his only way out was to take his own life
I'll be completely honest; my first emotion was anger. How could he have done this to his family? How selfish. How dare he? It's not a reaction I'm proud of and, with hindsight, it shows how ignorant I was to the issues of suicide.
I lay in bed that night looking at the ceiling, trying to work things out in my head. The more I thought about Simon, and the guy I knew, that anger quickly fell away. The man I knew wasn't selfish; he was generous and easy going. He always struck me as a really calm and level-headed guy. He was easy to talk to and always made you feel comfortable. He was just a really great guy.
Over the next few days, the more I thought about him, and the person he was, the more I realised what a terrible a place he must have been in to have thought that his only, and best way out, was to take his own life.
His death was very difficult to come to terms with. As an adult, the only people I’ve known who have passed away have been much older, and so while there has been grief, their age and circumstances helped to make sense of their death.
Simon’s death was not the same – that he took his own life left only questions, confusion and sadness. I’ve since learned, tragically, that suicide is the number one cause of death in men under the age of 45 – a statistic that is as shocking as it is sad, especially given it seems to be so common place, and yet no one is talking about it. But whenever I’ve spoken to people about it, I’ve been amazed at how many other people have a connection to someone who’s been affected by suicide.
Simon left a wife and two young boys, and this also created a strange sense of grief. On the one hand, I felt sad for the loss of my friend, and on the other, sadness for the loss his family has suffered and everything they — especially his kids — are going to miss out on, growing up without their dad. As a dad to a young son myself, the loss for his boys really hit me, and I thought a lot about the little things Simon’s boys will miss, like him buying them ice-creams in the summer, new bikes, footy kits, taking them to the beach. Simon was the main source of income for the family and the thought that they were going to miss out on the things he would have provided was really upsetting. It got me thinking about what I could do to help them and other men who might be thinking about taking their own lives.
So, in May this year, I set myself the challenge to cycle the 400 miles from London to Hull (Simon’s wife’s home town, and the last place I saw him) and back to fundraise both for his boys and for CALM – a suicide prevention charity.
I’m no real cyclist – I’m a bit overweight, don’t go to the gym and it had been three years since I’d been on my bike. I’d never ridden more than about 10 miles at once, so I knew it was going to take some work. I bought a second-hand road bike, and found a training guide online. Over the next weeks and months, I set about slowly building up the distances I could ride. I had a few setbacks along the way, with some minor injuries and mild heat exhaustion at one point, but on the whole I was out on the bike three times a week.
As I started to talk about the ride and tell people what I was doing, I was amazed by the offers of help, and that a couple of friends offered to do the ride with me. With a small team of helpers working away behind the scenes, we set a date for the ride at the start of September and started planning with my friends Jenni and Phil who were going to join me. Phil sadly lost his brother 17 years ago, and so the ride and cause are close to his heart as well.
I set myself the challenge to cycle the 400 miles from London to Hull and back to fundraise both for his boys and for CALM – a suicide prevention charity
We had about four months from announcing plans for the ride to the start date, and slowly the planning pretty much took over my life. We had to set up a website, run social media, plan the route, try to get press coverage, contact companies for donations towards a raffle, flyered in and around London, worked out what — and how much — we’d need to eat, all on top of the training schedule that demanded more and more time away from home on the bike. We also organised a day-long static cycle in Canary Wharf which acted as both a great fundraiser and a chance to increase exposure for CALM, who had staff on hand throughout the day to offer assistance and advice.
At times the prep got pretty tiring, but to see the donations slowly ticking up, and to see the awareness growing kept us positive. When we finally arrived at the start line on 1 September, it was a relief to get going. We had four hard days ahead of us, averaging 100 miles each day.
Our first day was lovely and sunny and we cycled from the Olympic Park in Stratford up to Spalding via Cambridge. Day two started with a very foggy morning before the weather cleared for another beautiful day through Lincolnshire, before catching first sight of the Humber Bridge just before 4pm.
Riding over the bridge was a really emotional moment as I’d had it as a mental picture in my mind for so long, and I knew it meant we were going to make it to Hull. We arrived at Beverley Minster and it was great to see Helen’s family waiting to greet us. We had a small celebration that night and raised a glass to Simon, before saying goodbye to Jenni who had to leave us for a wedding.
The next day, Phil and I headed south and back over the bridge. The first hour or so was fine, but then we spent the rest of the day fighting 15mph head winds which zapped both our energy and morale. It was by far the hardest day, and probably one of the hardest days I’ve ever had, but we made it to our accommodation just as the light was beginning to fade.
On day four we were joined by my good friend Owen, and we really needed him to help pull us home. By this point, both Phil and I were struggling with some pain in our ankles and legs, so having a fresh face full of enthusiasm was just what we needed. We made it back to the Olympic Park at 7pm, and to finally cross the finish line was an amazing feeling.
Looking back, it seems strange how quickly the ride was over. There are still some final fundraising bits and pieces to take care of, but so far we’ve raised just over £11,000 which I’m absolutely blown away by. We’ll be splitting it 50/50 between CALM and Simon’s boys.
To Hull and back is without doubt the biggest personal challenge I’ve ever undertaken; it’s been a long, emotional and, at times, exhausting journey. For me, it’s been about honouring Simon’s memory, and I hope that in some small way we have, and that some good, however small, will come from the tragedy of his death. Whether that is through the awareness we’ve raised, the conversations we’ve started, or the support for CALM – and all the great work they do to support other men who are, or might soon be thinking about taking their own lives – in the hope that other friends and families will be spared a similar experience.
Personally, completing the ride has given me some sense of closure. I’ve a small memory from day three (which I’m keeping for myself), but it felt like I made some peace with what had happened. It helped me to turn a page, although I know for his family members and many of his friends there is still a long way to go.
For me, it’s been about honouring Simon’s memory, and I hope that in some small way we have
I’ve been humbled by the support and love that I’ve received along the way from close friends to complete strangers, and I hope we’ve helped to make a difference, however small, for men who are struggling, and also for two young boys who are going to grow up without their dad.
If you’d like to find out more about the journey you can do so on our Facebook page. If you’d like to make a donation (however small) to help save young men’s lives and support Simon’s boys, visit our gofundme page.
Thanks so much for your support.