Photos by Lee Pulaski/Lake Powell Chronicle
(First photo) Andi Nakasone (left) and Justin Brown, two students from Baylor University, ride up Coppermine Road from Rt. 98 Sunday afternoon as they prepare to stop their trip for the day. (Second photo) The main participants in the Alive Campaign (from left), Andi Nakasone, Justin Brown, Nathan Lloyd, Kyle Ferguson and Alyson Erikson, take a breather by their van in the parking lot at St. David’s Episcopal Church. After leaving Page, the students were scheduled to stop in Kanab on Monday and go through Zion National Park later this week.
It began with the attempted suicide of a friend. Now five students going into their senior year at Baylor University are on a bicycle trek from Texas to Alaska in the hopes of showing people everywhere that life is worth living.
The Alive Campaign made a stop in Page on Sunday afternoon as part of a journey that started in May in Waco, Texas, and will conclude in late July in Anchorage, Alaska. Justin Brown, Alyson Erikson, Kyle Ferguson, Nathan Lloyd and Andi Nakasone admit they’re not in the greatest of shape, but the message they want to convey is something outside their comfort zone, that life is about taking chances and daring to do amazing things.
The students came into Page just after noon, having finished a 65-mile trek along Rt. 98. They spent the night at St. David’s Episcopal Church, and Page Community United Methodist Church provided the weary travelers with food. Most of the trip has relied on the kindness of strangers, the students pointed out.
Starting with one
This campaign started almost seven months ago, after the students found out that a friend of theirs had tried to commit suicide via a plastic bag and zip ties. Upon hearing this, they staged an intervention, according to Brown.
“We had this long dinner and this long discussion. We tried to find out why he didn’t want to live,” Brown said. “I think we said the things that a lot of us say, from ‘Are there things going on at home?’ to ‘What’s happening at school?’”
Brown and the others found out that their friend felt his dreams were unattainable, due to the grades he was getting. The friend had charted out his life, and things were not going to plan, Brown said.
“We wanted to show him that there’s more to life than the daily routine of college. There’s more to life than grades. There’s more to life than getting a certain job. There’s more to life than all these other things that we constantly occupy ourselves with,” he said. “This bike trip kind of proves that there’s more to life, that you can do whatever you want, and you can follow your dreams. The doors will be wide open for you if you wish and you dream and you work hard.”
The plan for the bike trip sprang up after the friends talked about all the crazy things they would do if they had no fear of death.
“If you weren’t afraid of death, there are other things you can do, channel that energy into something else,” Brown said. “We talked about crazy things like climbing Mount Everest and all of these things. Then I said, ‘You know, I’ve always wanted to bike across the country.’” Then we all looked at each other and said, ‘Yeah, we can do that.’”
Then Ferguson brought up the fact that he had never been to Alaska. That’s when the Baylor students’ discussion shifted from traveling across the continental United States to going from Texas up north all the way to the country’s 49th state.
Spreading the message
After the plan was formed, the next step was finding support. The five students created a Web page on Facebook to try and find out if others supported their bike trek. The goal was to get at least 250,000 online users in support of this suicide prevention campaign.
“We decided on a name, and we called it the Alive Campaign, since it’s about living life to the fullest,” Brown said.
The students thought it would take approximately a year to get that many supporters, giving them time to train for a long bicycle trip. The Facebook page reached that goal in 13 days.
“When people ask us if we’re in over our head, we say, ‘Yeah.’ We’re not bikers; we’re not trained athletes,” Brown said. “We were kind of shocked (at the sudden support), and we were kind of scared.”
The shell-shocked students found themselves with a lot of moral support, but little financial support. They had no money set aside for the trip, let alone bicycles to make it. A man from Missouri agreed to create a Web site for the Alive Campaign gratis, but the students were still going to have to start from square one.
Even though the students made multiple appearances in a variety of media in Texas, the financial support still was not flowing in. Until the beginning of May, they only had $6,000 together for the trip despite all the fundraisers they had done at that point, and they were hoping that the effort would not turn out to be, as Brown put it, “a suicide mission.”
“We told ourselves in the very beginning that, if God wants this to happen, if we’re meant to do this, then he’s going to open up a way,” he said.
According to Lloyd, the group’s unofficial business manager, the campaign found itself short two bicycles and a van to store all the gear. Then the idea came up to speak with the Ford dealership in the area, which Lloyd’s father owned.
“We presented our stuff — we gave a little media sponsorship packet — to Ford Direct, and they gave us $10,000. Then, whenever they wrote the contract, out of the kindness of their hearts, they gave us another five (thousand),” Lloyd said. “We went from ‘Probably going to make it out of Texas and might make it to California, given how nice people have been,’ to now we stand a pretty good chance of making it (to Alaska).”
The Alive Campaign also received a $2,000 award from the Jerry Greenspan Student Voice of Mental Health. Although the campaign is continuing to raise funds — not only for the trip but also to ultimately create a national program — the students are also trying to raise awareness by speaking at schools and churches.
“Basically, after this thing is over — although it’s too early to say right now — one of two things will happen,” Ferguson said. “We’re either going to turn this into its own national organization or hand it over to a national organization, or, if it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere, we’re going to cancel out the rest of the funds, take the remainder of the money left over and donate it to another organization.”
Keeping hope alive
Ferguson noted that suicide is the third leading cause of death in the 15 to 24 age range, and suicides by those in the military have been increasing over the last few years. A majority of the students on the trip are from military families and/or are planning to enter the military themselves after college.
Besides the desire to show their one friend a reason to keep on living, the students are being fueled by the stories of other people — people who have lost someone to suicide, who know someone who has attempted suicide or who have attempted to end their own lives. The Facebook page has a comment area where individuals have shared their stories, Erikson said.
“We’ve really created this community,” she said. “One person would write on there, ‘I’m thinking of suicide,’ or ‘I’m not doing well,’ and then somebody in a completely different state or country even would respond with ‘What’s going on? We should talk.’ We started seeing this kind of network with people helping people.”
It is important to make sure that everybody realizes they have at least one person that supports them, and that they should be willing to help if someone else needs their support, she added. She noted that the students’ friend is doing a lot better, due to the support he has received.
“We’re trying to let them know that the worst thing you can do is ignore somebody’s cry for help, and a lot of people actually do. They change the subject,” Erikson said. “It’s not that, all of a sudden, they’ve decided to commit suicide. There’s an underlying (cause).”
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