29 Jun 2018

Cycling the Tour de France for mental health awareness

From Nine To Noon, 9:26 am on 29 June 2018

Depression is something many people deal with on their own, in silence, for fear of stigma.

John Randal is determined to change that.

Randal is the Associate Dean of Victoria Business School and a keen cyclist who battles depression.

To help encourage others to open up and raise money for the Mental Health Foundation, he's set himself a huge cycling challenge – the Tour de France, no less.

With seven other cyclists, Randal will bike the exact 3,000km route of the famous French cycling tour, one day ahead of the competitive riders.

It will take them three and a half weeks.

Randal's group – who call themselves Team NZ – trained for six months with Olympic track cycling medallist Hayden Roulston.

During his training, Randal has also been speaking publicly about his own depression to show that even someone like him who appears to 'have it all together' has this setback.

He swung by the Wellington studio for a chat with Kathryn Ryan before flying to France last Friday.

Most members of 'Team NZ' have been touched by depression in some way, he says.

“Most of the team have a personal experience with depression, whether it's a family member, a friend or themselves. One teammate lost a sibling to suicide.”

Randal's own diagnosis came ten years ago.

“I was struggling to ride home to Karori and so I went to my doctor reporting these physical symptoms – the fatigue – but he found nothing wrong. I was quite shocked when he said 'You don’t have cancer' because that was clearly something that he’d considered."

When the doctor told Randal that he was depressed it came as a relief, he says.

He realised he’d been coping with it for years.

"I’d been organising my work commitments so I was doing them when I was feeling well. All my Saturdays I’d be apple-pied. I’d be literally lying on the bedroom floor.”

Since he started to blog about the tour and talk openly about his own depression, people have come forward, Randal says.

“There’s been a startling number of disclosures from colleagues of their own mental health problems and a lot of acknowledgement from people that I’m doing a good thing.

“My experience has been not having to hide it [depression] has been a good thing.”

Team NZ are Steven Fish, Jason Kelly, Paul Arnesen, Stuart Lowe, Hayden Roulston (coach), Bruce Thompson, John Randal, Mike Conza, and Jonathan Douglas (organiser).

You can support them by donating here.

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