Specifically within our sport of dirt bike riding, mental health is somewhat of a taboo subject. It can, at times, feel like this made up thing. And, if you admit to suffering from some sort of mental health issue, others can view you as a weak-minded individual. In 2022, as a whole, I would argue that the stigma surrounding mental health is actually improving to some degree. However, not too long ago, I had a first hand experience with somebody who doesn’t buy into the idea that mental health is real.
Without going into too much detail, this person, essentially, said that mental health is not a real thing because this person has never had depression or mental struggles. Instead, the individual said that people need to simply stop being a bunch of whiney bitches and suck it up like a real man. This person had no idea that I am actively in therapy. As soon as I heard those words come out of their mouth, I kept my mouth shut because I knew it would be like arguing with a brick wall if I tried.
Over my 14 years of shooting dirt bikes, I’ve (obviously) interviewed a lot of athletes and, at times, we get into the topic of mental health. Throughout the years, those specific topics of conversation have never seen the light of day. I have worked with multi-time race winners and champions of this sport who were actively or had recently dealt with serious mental health issues and they discussed this on camera. However, after the fact, all of them would ask me to please keep that out of the video as they didn’t want others to know their struggles. Why? Out of fear that they would be ostracized by their fellow racers, team, and/or the fans of our sport for being “weak.” Out of respect for those athletes and ethical reasonings, those wishes have been respected to this day and will be respected until the end of time. However, it had always bummed me out that these athletes didn’t want it in their video. I’ve always felt very strongly in talking about mental health because, well… we all deal with it in some capacity and how else do we break that stigma?
Enter Road 2 Recover. The non-profit organization saw the importance of mental health and how it effects athletes within action sports and launched the R2R Mental Health Initiative, which aims to break the stigma of mental health within the sport of Supercross/motocross racing by providing long-form sit down interviews with past and present SX/MX athletes who share their candid stories about mental health, what they went through, and how they got through it. Not only that, but R2R is also providing anonymous Zoom peer group meetings on the second Tuesday of every month with a guest speaker, along with providing resources for anybody struggling with mental health.
I love our sport dearly, but at times it truly feels like we are living in prehistoric times with how ass backwards we go about business. So, to have a group like Road 2 Recovery make an effort to break the stigma of mental health within our sport is, in my opinion, a monumental leap forward in making an uncomfortable topic feel not so uncomfortable for everyone.
When I received the e-mail from Lori Armistead at R2R asking if I was available and interested in shooting these long-form interview pieces for their mental health initiative, there was no way in hell I was going to turn this down. As somebody who is actively in therapy once a week, this is a topic I am deeply fond of and believe it’s a positive step forward in our industry to be openly speaking about mental heath. Currently, we’ve shot Ricky Johnson, Broc Glover, Jeff Emig, Trey Canard, David Pingree, Robbie Maddison, and Sean MacCorman (Red Bull Airforce Skydiver). Each individual has had such a unique experience with their own mental health journey. Some of these interviews moved us to tears. These guys have been opening up to us about topics from substance abuse all the way to having a gun in their mouth and ready to pull the trigger. It’s been incredibly humbling and emotional to hear these stories shared with us. It’s eye-opening to know that even though it may look like one has it all, on the inside, there are strong demons at play that we don’t see behind closed doors.
One of my biggest takeaways from this project has been something echoed by almost each athlete we’ve sat down with. And that is that our sport (at a professional level) spends a lot of money to make the bike the best it can be, hire the best mechanics available, the best riders available, the best physical trainer available, eat the best and most healthy foods available, find the best surgeon available when you break a bone; however, the second you say you are struggling mentally, nobody wants to help with that. Instead, the athlete is told to suck it up and push through it. These are not my words. These are the words from the individuals we have interviewed for this project. If you can’t physically see what is wrong with your own eyes, then it just doesn’t exist. And, mental health is not necessarily a physical flaw that you see. It’s not a bone snapped in half. It’s invisible and only the individual suffering from it knows what it feels like and looks like and, more often then not in our sport, is probably suffering in silence.
I’m very honored to be a small part of this project with Lori and the R2R crew, and I hope that those who watch these interviews and/or join in on the anonymous Zoom peer group meetings are able to take something positive away from all of this and we can see our sport make the proper steps forward in accepting that mental heath is a real thing and we need to address it when it the issues arise.
If you or anyone you know is struggle with mental health, please reach out for help. Road 2 Recovery has provided a plethora of resources right here for you if you or somebody you know is in need of help. If you are looking for additional resources, I also recommend PsychologyToday.com. It’s where I was able to find help for myself and commence my journey on getting the head sorted out.