Two bicyclists will be stopping in Lawrence on Monday during their seven-month cross-country tour to raise awareness about suicide prevention.
Thomas Brown, 34, and Zachary Chipps, 31, met each other while working for the Parks and Recreation Department in Scottsdale, Ariz. It was a chance meeting that happened while they were waiting for a program to begin. During that conversation, they learned they liked the same music, so they exchanged numbers and eventually met for coffee. That’s when they learned they were both reading the same book, “Ishmael,” by Daniel Quinn, and they both had lost an older brother to suicide. They both were 24 when it happened.
“It lifted a lot of weight off my chest just to know somebody that I could have fellowship with,” Brown said.
Since then, they have formed a unique bond and decided to embark on the bicycling journey to help in their healing process and to reach out to others.
“Our intention is to go out and learn as much as we can from people, learn what’s working and what’s not working,” Brown said. “We also want to bring the message that the creative power that’s inside each and every person is kind of like a catalyst for change and growth and transcendence.”
Their journey, called Revolution Inspired by Self Evolution, or RISE, began March 1 by riding across the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge, a site of frequent suicides. Brown said a man rode with them across the bridge; he had lost his brother to suicide there.
“That was pretty emotional,” he said.
Since then, they’ve pedaled their way through California, New Mexico, Colorado and Nebraska. At first, they didn’t have a support vehicle, but now they do. They take turns driving and bicycling and they receive support from friends, family, churches and networks such as CouchSurfing and Warmshowers. They’ve also partnered with a nonprofit suicide prevention center in Tempe, Ariz.
“It has been the biggest challenge and the most rewarding thing I have ever done,” Chipps said. “It has been amazing.”
Chipps grew up in Hastings, Neb. He was close to his brother, Sean, who was nine years older.
“We were best friends and I looked up to him. I got his hand-me downs when we were growing up, and I wanted to be just like him,” he said. “That was a real scary thing that I had to deal with when he died. I was a lot like him and I realized his choices and the path he had chosen and ended it in, and I was like, ‘Wow. I’m going to have to make some changes here.’”
Brown said he and his brother, Marc, also were close. They played basketball and both cheered for the Jayhawks because their parents were originally from Kansas.
“I went from being the baby in the family to the only child,” Brown said. “One of the hardest things for me is knowing one of these days that I will have to bury my parents and I am not going to have my brother there with me.”
Brown said they have learned that they are far from alone. They have met many survivors of suicide and have learned that everyone heals differently.
“We can’t control what comes at us, but we can control how we deal with it,” he said. “We don’t all heal in the same way and that’s OK. We shouldn’t compare ourselves to other individuals and how they are healing. It’s also OK to have a bad day and it’s OK to say, ‘I need a helping hand right now.’”
David Moore, of rural Lawrence, praised the two men for helping to raise suicide awareness. One year ago, he lost his son Cassidy to suicide at age 23.
“If you would have looked at him and known him, you would have thought he had the world by the tail,” Moore said. “If it happened to him, it could happen to anyone.”
Moore is calling on fellow cyclists to help escort Brown and Chipps into town. He will be departing from the Lawrence Visitors Center, 402 N. Second St., at 11 a.m. Monday and riding about 25 miles out to meet them, and then they will escort them into town for a brief gathering at 3:30 p.m. at the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, 111 E. 11th St.
“Let’s roll out the red carpet for these guys,” he said. “I am sure they are dragging about now and can use the support.”
For Brown, it will be sort of a second homecoming. He will be visiting with relatives here and in Wichita. He has been scattering his brother’s ashes along the journey and plans to leave some around Allen Fieldhouse. He also has his brother’s KU cap and plans to find a place to retire it.
Before leaving Omaha, Neb., on Thursday, Brown described the journey as magnificent.
“How long do you have?” he said, when asked to share special moments. “The scenery. The people. It has all just been amazing.”
JOIN THE JOURNEY
Thomas Brown and Zachary Chipps, both of Scottsdale, Ariz., are on a seven-month cross-country bicycle tour to raise awareness about suicide. They are going through 21 states and stopping in 110 cities.
They will be in Lawrence Monday through Wednesday. Headquarters Counseling Center, a suicide prevention center in Lawrence, has been coordinating efforts to welcome them to town. Headquarters invites the public to join the cause by:
• Participating in the ride. A group of cyclists will leave the Lawrence Visitors Center, 402 N. Second St., at 11 a.m. They will ride out about 25 miles to greet them and escort them to town. The route will be along Highway 24 and then Highway 59, going north toward Oskaloosa. Brown and Chipps will be departing from Effingham at 11 a.m.
• Attending a meet and greet. There will be a social gathering about 3:30 p.m. Monday at the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, 111 E. 11th St., where the riders will stop in town. The gathering will migrate to Johnny’s Tavern in North Lawrence until early evening.
• Joining a potluck and meeting. The event will be from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at Trinity Lutheran Church, 1245 N.H. There will be a brief program where the bicyclists will talk about their journey.
The City of Lawrence has proclaimed the week of May 6-12 as Rise Phoenix Week in honor of the cyclists and their mission.
Marcia Epstein, director of Headquarters Counseling Center in Lawrence, says you can make a difference when someone shows signs of feeling suicidal. Here’s how:
• Listen and show you care.
• Ask the question, “Are you thinking about suicide?”
• For teens, find a trusted adult to help you both.
• For adults, find someone to be with the person and someone trained in suicide prevention to help.
• Eliminate access to firearms, medications and other dangers.
• Never keep a secret about suicide.
• Know that suicide is never someone else’s fault.
Where to get help:
• Headquarters Counseling Center’s 24-hour service, 785-841-2345.
• National Suicide Prevention Life-Line, 800-273-8255.
• Bert Nash’s 24-hour service, 785-843-9192.
• Lawrence Memorial Hospital emergency room, 785-505-6100.
• KU Child and Family Services Clinic, 785-864-4416.
• DCCCA (outpatient drug and alcohol treatment center), 785-830-8238.