They say a lot of things in life are as easy as riding a bike. For Shane Boylan, riding a bike is perhaps the most beautifully difficult thing he’ll ever do. Shane, an 11-year-old from Highland Park, New Jersey, is making sure people never forget that depression can take a devastating toll on countless people worldwide. According to the Hope for Depression Research Foundation, a depressed person dies from suicide every 14 minutes in the US. It’s a staggering statistic that, unfortunately, hit too close to home for Shane last year. His father (and avid bike rider), Timothy, took his life after a battle with depression and alcoholism. Shane, however, didn’t let the tragedy get the better of him. He started asking questions, hoping to help other families avoid the same suffering. Eventually, Shane hopped on his own bike to take action.
Now in its second year, Shane’s “Depression Doesn’t Ride” fundraiser was an eleven-mile journey to raise money to raise awareness and combat depression. (Every year, the distance grows to match Shane’s age.) “Last year, we had no idea how many people to expect,” Shane’s mother Aanika said, claiming that they were originally overwhelmed by the turnout. “It was really shocking and surprising to see so many people come out.” What started off as an homage to Shane’s dad turned into something much larger and inspiring for others, with everyone from USA Today to The Huffington Post picking up the story. In fact, Shane’s original goal of $400 to fund depression research quickly reached $4,000—all of which was donated to the Hope for Depression Research Foundation. Held just after Father’s Day this year, even more riders came out to participate than in 2016. “There were more people riding with us than there were watching us ride, which was good,” Shane said, noting that there were dozens of others pedaling alongside him.
The ride is a lot more than just the time spent on a bike seat, too. According to Shane’s mother, it’s about the conversation it gets going. “It’s really remarkable how many people share their personal connections to addiction and depression,” Aanika said. “Once you mention the ride, it really opens up the doors for conversations about depression. People start talking about their own issues—and that’s healing for us and for the people willing to share their stories with us.” And it’s a conversation definitely worth having, since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 1 out of 20 Americans suffer from depression. If nothing else, Shane’s ride reveals that no one is truly alone in their battle.
“The overall support has been wonderful,” Aanika said, practically smiling through the phone. “At his school and in our community and neighborhood, everyone cheers him on and acknowledges what he’s doing.” Louisa Benton, Executive Director of Hope for Depression, goes one step further in saying that Shane’s event is both unique and quietly profound. “Shane is wise beyond his years,” Benton said. “What he’s doing can change the world, and that’s what touches us so deeply. He represents the future and is an ambassador of hope.” At the end of the day, however, Shane takes all of that attention in stride. He’s a kid who’s as unassuming as he is determined, crossing the finish line with a pretty straightforward motivation: “I just think of my father and I keep going for him,” he said.
And while this year’s path hasn’t changed (it’s the same hour-long journey around historic Johnson Park, through the colonial buildings of East Jersey Olde Towne), the mood was certainly different for Shane’s mother. Where the first year was overwhelming on a number of levels, this year’s ride was hugely sentimental. “There was a picture of Shane this year riding in Johnson Park and I suddenly remembered years ago, back in 1991, that Tim and I were at the same place. The park had been flooded and we’d had our picture taken there,” Aanika said. “This year, that was a profound moment for me: Shane was riding in the exact same park where his father and I had been.”
The ride is clearly as meaningful as it is cathartic for Shane and his mother. Still, it’s not the memories or the outpouring of support that’s the most rewarding part of the experience. No, it’s seeing Shane turn an activity his father loved into something that’s rewarding, heartwarming, and important to countless others. “[Shane’s dad] was already proud of Shane,” Aanika said, “but he would be extremely proud of what he’s done.” For his part, Shane plans on riding, year after year, in memory of his father. And for a kid who crossed the finish line and immediately thought, “Is it really over?”, his singular fight against depression is nowhere close to being finished.
If you’re interested in helping Shane get started for his 2018 ride, visit the HDRF website (http://www.hopefordepression.org). At the bottom of the Donate page, in the “In Memory Of/Comments” section, write “Shane’s Ride.”