Essay: On the Very Next Question
(2016) A long time ago when I was in college, I eagerly awaited to hear about my friend’s semester abroad in Australia. Being a product of the eighties – a decade that swooned over all things Australian – I was under the impression the country oozed awesomeness. I’m sure there were cool things mentioned, but one experience my friend point to that stuck with me was how their greetings differed.
The questions, “How are you?” or “How you doing?” is rhetorical in these American parts. It’s somehow a substitute for “Hello.” I don’t know how it got to that, but it did. It's entirely common for two people to walk past each other echoing, "Hey. How are you?" and not stopping to talk. Apparently in Australia (and perhaps in much of the world), if an American asked someone “How you doing?” that person would stop walking and begin to script out how the day truly was. If that isn’t a form of culture shock, then I don’t know what is.
Australia has been in the headlines with the recent Tour Down Under. They pulled off what was considered a ‘flawless’ event. It’s a race that is nearly opposite both seasonally and timeliness to the Euro-centric sport. It has stretched the cycling season to nearly a full calendar year. In the end Simon Gerrans, an Australian riding for Orica-GreenEDGE, an Australian team, won the GC. Stage six’s win went to Caleb Ewan, also from Australia, and also of Orica-GreenEDGE in a massive field sprint. Perhaps one of the reasons it was flawless was the success of the Australians in the field.
If one were to tune in to the race, it wouldn’t be a bit strange to see several riders off the front vying for a chance to stay away. Being out front is inspiring. A solo breakaway is even more inspiring. The sport of cycling becomes more romantic when riders manage to suffer far away from the casual appearance of the peloton. Piggyback that with stories of riders who train alone for multiple hours to prepare for the Tour Down Under and it’s easy to see just how riders embark in a weird dichotomy of being on a team, yet feel like he or she is competing as an individual.
I thought of these ideas when I learned of BMX rider Dave Mirra. The forty-one year-old apparently died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He was married with two children. Despite becoming famous on his BMX bike, Dave Mirra was involved in riding on the road, too. Mirra completed the Lake Placid ultra distance triathlon last year, completing the 112-mile bike portion in just over five hours. He was a forty-something male riding his bike with a family waiting for him when he got back.
I point out his age because there’s an alarming trend. In the UK, for example, men in their forties make up the largest demographic of completed suicide. Where it used to be men were twice as likely to complete suicide, now it’s four times as likely. This is certainly something to pay attention to with figures as severe as that.
Some will point to the fact that Dave Mirra embarked in a sport where head injuries can have lasting effects. There has been a recent focus of the sad outcomes of athletes who suffered head trauma. This possibility isn’t lost in the shuffle. Yet men his age may be struggling with something deeper, something darker.
It goes without saying cycling is one of the few sports that prides itself on seeking out suffering and the ability to capture it. The victory goes to the rider who suffered the most. He or she made the other riders suffer enough to make them fall by the wayside. Swallowing pain for a later reward is de rigueur. Specifically riding alone and focusing on the finishing line, forgetting any sort of real indication that something larger is at play, is what cyclists strive to recreate. It could be a realm that hides a larger danger.
As the cycling community struggles to understand why someone as successful as Dave Mirra would have resorted to taking his own life, it could be a moment of truth for anyone who has suffered through the race and brushed off the warning signs that something needs to be addressed. Specifically, it has been said men avoid the medical doctor for reasons paired with their age: They don’t feel the need to in their twenties, don’t have time to in their thirties, are afraid to in their forties, are forced to in their fifties, and so on. This sentiment could be mirrored when it comes to mental health: They feel they are invincible in their twenties, can deal with it in their thirties, struggle daily in their forties, and finally break down in their fifties.
I think back to my friend’s semester abroad in Australia just now. It may speak volumes if instead of asking the American rhetorical, “How you doing?” and moving on, perhaps we should stop and greet, “Hi,” then develop to, “How are you?” and actually wait to find out to make sure that person is ok. There could be much endured suffering under the surface that’s waiting to come out after the finish of a ride, perhaps waiting around to evaluate a fellow rider can be instrumental to pointing that person in a helpful direction.
If you or someone you know needs help, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached by dialing 1 (800) 273- 8255. A trained counselor in your area will answer your call. Information can also be found by visiting their website at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
Cover photo is of Dave Mirra's Cervelo he rode at the Lake Placid, NY event.