My brother's life is a dirty and exhausting endurance race that never ends, despite the fact he committed suicide 14 years ago today.
Every September since Paul died in 1996 at the age of 34, family, friends, mountain-biking enthusiasts and greenhorns have gathered in the Ganaraska Forest near Peterborough, Ont. We honour Paul's life, sustain his passion for racing and the Ganaraska trails, and talk about the mystery and heartache of knowing that someone you can't live without thought you would be better off without them.
On the one hand, Paul Rush was a rough-and-tumble mountain biker who could always be counted on to pull ahead in the home stretch during 24-hour relays with his biking buddies. He was a humble and hard-working cyclist, the strong and often silent type with broad shoulders, solid legs and a heart that could climb the steepest hills without missing a beat.
Paul loved to ride the trails, the more offbeat and rugged the better. His dream was to do a 100-kilometre endurance race, not to prove he was better or stronger or faster than anyone, but because it was a new challenge and adventure. It was inevitable that the Dirty Enduro race that started because of him includes a 100-kilometre trail that winds in one big loop with a new view at each twist and turn, which is exactly the way Paul would have wanted it.
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On the other hand, Paul was a real character with an offbeat sense of humour. He had twinkling Irish eyes that reflected his appreciation for a good time with family and friends. Women loved Paul, not just for his charm and good looks but also for his sensitivity and vulnerability.
He had four older sisters who loved to spoil him, and a couple of girlfriends who probably would have married him in a flash if only he had popped the question. Yet he remained the eternal bachelor. I questioned this many times, and he always told me he was afraid of getting married and having kids because he might screw it up. I should have known this was a sign of his insecurities, but he always said it with a chuckle and such casual flair that I thought he was pulling my leg.
Paul was a big tease with everyone, especially kids. Nieces, nephews and friends' children could not wait for him to shower them with attention. Young ones and even too-cool tweens would sidle up to the friendly giant, knowing that when the moment was right he would scoop them up and twirl them, bench press them with his big "muskles" or cart them around the block on the back of his bike.
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His love and affection were unconditional and unencumbered. You could be yourself with Paul, and no matter how shy or quiet you were, you always knew he had no expectations. And he made a mean pizza from scratch, turning the kitchen into a cheesy disaster area, but the results were mouthwatering and the cleanup with Paul always fun.
Unfortunately, Paul was also a man who lived with the "black dog" of depression for years, a dark secret we live to regret.
Paul was raised in an era when boys were taught to deal with their anger or frustration by scrapping, or shutting up. Going to the doctor was for pregnant women and old people. And talking about it was something you were only allowed to do in the church confessional, to ask forgiveness for feeling this way when you should be grateful you have a roof over your head and food on the table.
So when Paul had thoughts of suicide, and even attempted it unsuccessfully, as we later discovered, he sucked it up because that was what real men did. When he told us that stray dogs were chasing him during his solitary bike rides, little did we know the animals that were really haunting him were in his mind.
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Paul lost his job, and he told us it was because his boss was a jerk. He probably was, but what we didn't see was that Paul's anxiety, in the days before employee mental health was a sincere consideration, led to behaviour that was typically dealt with by pushing the difficult worker out the door.
In the end, it was not the stray dogs or the tough terrain that took Paul's life, but his own desperate desire to end his pain.
So every year we gather, and what started with a few close family members and friends and a pot of chili 14 years ago has become a big event with hundreds of riders and volunteers, and more than $17,000 in donations. The funds are used to raise awareness about suicide, especially among young people.
The cause has become a potential source of healing instead of pain. Family and friends would much rather see Paul leading the pack in the 100-kilometre race year after year. Instead, we gather annually to watch others continue the race, and it is a bittersweet ride. Whether they participate for the thrill, or to honour someone who suffers from mental illness or tragically took their own life, the participants at Paul's Dirty Enduro continue his life journey on his behalf.
Mary Lou Archibald lives in Brantford, Ont.
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