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Ajax man helps stomp the stigma about mental health issues
DURHAM — For years, shame and fear led Ajax’s Ben Verboom to inadvertently contribute to the stigma surrounding mental illness.
A graduate of Archbishop Denis O’Connor Catholic High School, Mr. Verboom grew up with two loving parents and siblings, but that all changed when, in Grade 9, he came home from school to find police cars waiting.
“I had no idea why they were there,” Mr. Verboom said to an audience of Durham high school students attending a Stomping Out Stigma summit recently.
The event is held annually at Whitby’s Ontario Shores mental health centre in partnership with the Talking About Mental Illness Coalition of Durham. Its intent is to raise awareness and stomp out the stigma surrounding mental illness.
For Mr. Verboom, it was the suicide of his father that brought the police to his house that day. His father had been found dead in a car with a bullet in his head which was almost certainly self-inflicted, Mr. Verboom said.
“The loss and grief and anger associated with losing a young parent is one thing,” he said.
But add to that the confusion of it being caused by suicide and he didn’t know what to do, he said.
For five years he stayed silent about it — his friends knew his dad had died but didn’t know it was by suicide.
“I later learned he suffered from depressions for years — I didn’t know this,” he said.
Now aged 20 and in his third year at the University of Toronto, Mr. Verboom has been exposed to courses about mental illness and met others affected. He’s discovered how prevalent it is but one of the things that stopped him from talking about it sooner was the stigma attached.
“I have never experienced suicidal feelings,” Mr. Verboom said. “I really had trouble trying to relate to people who have suicidal tendencies or depression; I still do.”
To help alleviate some of that stigma, he followed in his father’s bike tracks this past summer and hit the road in a Cycle to Help for suicide awareness.
Cycling was an activity the two had shared together. In 2001, his father Tim Verboom even rode his bike to New York to raise money for the Red Cross following 9/11.
For Mr. Verboom’s campaign, he rode from Newfoundland to British Columbia — about 8,000 kilometres — in just 89 days on the bike his dad rode to New York. He also went public with everything surrounding his father’s death.
“I’ll always be a little bit confused about it and (have) unanswered questions no one but him could answer … but it has been a healing process talking about it,” he said following his speech.
“For years I was contributing to the stigma because I was afraid and ashamed to talk about it,” he said.
By approaching the subject with compassion, he’s hoping to help people be more understanding and prevent more people from committing suicide.
“No shame and that’s how we’re going to decrease the stigma,” he added.
For his efforts, Mr. Verboom received the TAMI’s Barb Hiff Memorial Bursary for $500, created in honour of the late member.
In tears, her daughter Danielle Wilson embraced Mr. Verboom following his speech.
“I just want to say thank you,” Ms. Wilson said. “My mother would be so honoured the first award went to someone like you.”
Ms. Wilson has bipolar and has often felt the impact of the stigma associated with mental illness.
High school students who participated in the summit received a tool kit to help them organize events of their own to help stomp out stigma and increase awareness in their school.
For more information about Mr. Verboom or his Cycle to Help, visit www.cycletohelp.org
The little engine that could
Motorized bikes spark interest with older set, RVers, commutersBy Lawrence Powell
Stephen Wade remembers his first bicycle with fondness even after all these years. He got it for a grading present around Grade 5 and drove that Supercycle all through high school — even when he became way too big for it.
“I wore it out,” Wade admits, but he’s proud of the fact that he stuck by that bike when his friends kept trading in for newer versions. And the bike stuck by him.
All these decades later, the Arlington Road resident is still biking and extols the benefits of staying active despite the onrush of years.
Wade has a new Supercycle – the company’s 70th anniversary edition. The gleaming red bike with the classic look, 26-inch rims, fat white-wall tires, and the wide seat is a sturdy piece of equipment. At about six feet tall, Wade may still be a bit big for it, but he can make it move just the same.
The difference between his first bike and the shiny new one is the 49-cc engine that can power Wade up those hills that he used to take with ease when he was a kid.
STARTED AS A HOBBY
The addition of an engine wasn’t even something Wade thought about until a friend from Saint Stephen, NB came visiting this past summer. His friend, a retired police officer, had purchased an engine kit for his bicycle, more or less as the beginning of a hobby. There was so much interest from others that the ‘hobby’ took on a life of its own and soon it became a busy job.
“He got me interested,” Wade recalls of his friend’s story.
Wade, who has always been mechanically inclined, bought his first engine kit and he’d barely fitted it to a bicycle when people were dropping by or stopping him to find out more about the little two-stroke engines and how they worked. Soon he was buying bikes off the rack for others and fitting them with engines that he orders from California.
Adding the tiny engine to a bicycle isn’t a difficult process. Kits include the engine, a sprocket, chain and chain guard, clutch lever, a throttle with a kill switch, a gas tank that sits on the crossbar, all the mounting brackets, plus wiring and cables.
The only necessary consideration is that the frame has to be the right size. But Wade said the right bikes can be bought almost anywhere – like Canadian Tire and Walmart.
The sprocket is added to the left end of the back axle, the motor is fastened to the frame below the crossbar, and a heavy chain links the two. When depressed, the clutch lever on the left side of the handle bar engages the engine that starts on the compression from the bike’s forward momentum. Hit the kill switch on the left handle bar and the engine stops.
Wade said the benefits of the motorized bicycles are appreciated mostly by older bikers who want to keep going with the sport but can’t manage the hills as well as they used to. Although he’s just started assembling and selling the bikes, his most frequent customers and those showing interest are people in middle age or seniors. Riders will find the hills manageable and can consider longer trips.
“They’re powerful enough that they can carry a very heavy person up a steep grade with no problem at all,” Wade said.
He said people with recreation vehicles are also interested because the bikes can be strapped to RVs and used as auxiliary transportation when the RVers reach their destination. In fact, the motorized bikes will fit easily onto a car bike rack.
Wade sees the bikes as being beneficial to people traveling back and forth to work as well. They provide a tremendous fuel savings as the engines are rated for 175 miles per four US litres.
The bikes are being used more and more in large cities like Toronto, and even farmers, hunters, and fishermen are using them.
“They have multiple uses,” Wade said.
WORD OF CAUTION“These bikes are capable of breaking the speed limit, so they have to be used wisely,” Wade said. The 49 cc engine is legally allowed on the road without license or registration and can attain speeds of up to 40 miles per hour.
He noted that the engine’s exhaust is tucked out of the way of feet and ankles, and the new versions have heat shields as an added precaution. However, he said the exhaust doesn’t get hot enough to burn the driver even if contact is made.
Wade services the bikes as well, and he said spare parts are readily available. But not much maintenance is needed because the bikes are so simple – the odd carburetor adjustment or cleaning the spark plug.
Wade said his experience in just a few short months demonstrates that there is a demand for the bikes. People stop by or call, and while he realizes he got into the business late in the biking season, he’s already taking orders for the spring.
The bikes alone cost about $300 but he’s been able to add the engine and get them road ready for just under $700. That’s the starting point. The price goes up depending on the bicycle the customer wants.
1 in 5 teens at risk for heart disease: studyOne in five adolescents aged 14 to 15 now has high blood pressure or high cholesterol or both and that could be putting them on the fast track to heart disease, new research shows.
“This study is further evidence of an accelerating decline in the heart health of Canada’s teens,” said Brian McCrindle, a cardiologist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.
“Children just shouldn’t have these problems.”
Dr. McCrindle said the initiative has provided valuable data as well as a good learning opportunity for the students.
“But education is never enough. It does not, in itself, lead to behaviour change,” he said.
Rather, students and their parents need to have the ability to put what they learn into action and that requires community programs that make sports accessible, changes in the city layouts so biking is safe and easy, and policy changes such as reducing salt in processed foods.
Photo via Flickr
Quick word of warning. If shaky video makes you feel ill, this video will make you lose your lunch. Otherwise, it is pretty amazing: