The Issue Is: Bikes as Healers
Heather Russell on Using Bikes as a Tool to Healing Sexual Trauma
Cycling is beautiful, but if you don’t follow the standard accepted behaviors, or look a certain way, it can feel a little “locals only.” The issue is, how do we make cycling more inclusive and welcoming for everyone? Hosted by Jen Kyle Whalen, this series shines a light on people putting their own stamp on cycling, ignoring the norms, and breaking the rules to help spur real change. In this episode, Heather Russell shows us that bikes serve many purposes — in this case, as an empowering tool for healing sexual trauma.
TRAIL THERAPY WITH SACRED CYCLE
When we say bikes are therapeutic, we typically go to a place of the mood-altering perspective. A hard day at work, a fight with a friend, stresses outside of our control — these can all be reasons to ride and take our minds off the everyday. But if we look at it from another angle, where the therapy becomes more than mood-salve and actually has the potential to heal a mind in pain, then we begin to see the true power of pedaling.
For Heather Russell — founder of Sacred Cycle, an organization dedicated to helping survivors of sexual trauma find a way out of their pain — the humble mountain bike has been a critical tool in her therapy practice. Riding is helping survivors to find healing on two wheels.
It’s inspiring and uplifting to see that riding can be a tool for alleviating trauma. As Heather points out, survivors of trauma often leave their body as a defense mechanism. Riding is a way of reconnecting both with the mind and body, as well as to the present moment.
One of the issues that survivors of sexual trauma face is the social stigma attached to talking about it. It can be extremely difficult, especially when society can be reticent to hear. Bikes, and riding with someone, can help knock down that barrier and facilitate healing.
“I started Sacred Cycle,” says Heather, “because I was broken-hearted by the suffering I witnessed as a mental health therapist. I wanted people who have not experienced sexual trauma to understand the magnitude of the pain this type of trauma causes, the prevalence of sexual violence, and I wanted to offer hope and healing to as many survivors as possible. I think the scale in which we’ve been able to reach and impact has been small, but I’ve noticed significant changes in our supporters, board members, and people who come to our fundraising events.”
“I think bicycles work for trauma recovery in endless ways that I’ve discovered through personal experience, and now that I’ve been working on Sacred Cycle, I’ve had countless people reach out about how bikes have changed their outlook on life for the better.”
Join the conversation about Heather’s mission below, and what we can all do to help destigmatize this issue and to improve people’s lives.
“Sometimes it’s hard to sit in a room and have somebody staring at you, waiting for you to say something. Riding alongside next to somebody, it’s amazing what it will bring up.”
Support Sacred Cycle
Learn more and support Sacred Cycle, here, and if you would like to contribute to the scholarship fund for sexual trauma victims who need financial assistance to take part in Sacred Cycle, you can do so here.
IN A NUTSHELL
1. Why does it matter?
Heather: “Sexual violence is a quiet epidemic that is completely uncomfortable to talk about for everyone. It’s a complicated subject and healing from it is equally complicated. I’ve had board members who were barely able to say the word ‘sexual’ without flinching who are now huge advocates and spokespeople and understand the complexities of these issues. The more we talk about this epidemic, the easier it will get for everyone and the more we will be able to help survivors and prevent future assaults and abuse.
In my opinion, with the number of victims (1 in 4 women, 1 in 5 men), sexual trauma is one of the main root causes of many of the issues that afflict our wellbeing as a society (addictions are a good example). Nobody really wants to talk about an innocent child being molested or somebody’s daughter being raped on a college campus. It’s one of the worst things that can happen to a person, but it happens ALL THE TIME, and it needs to be addressed for the survivor’s sake and the health of our society.”
Why do you think it matters that survivors of sexual trauma be empowered to talk about their survivorship?
2. What have been the biggest challenges?
Heather: “Funds. I’m sure this is a common answer when asking about the hurdles of a non-profit. Asking for money and actually receiving it takes solidarity, and solidarity takes a clear vision, organization, and a good team of people with defined roles and the ability to execute those roles. When starting a non-profit with a passion and an idea, these things don’t always come as easily as you think they should. One of the biggest challenges behind funding has been the ability to define exactly what Sacred Cycle is; how we can best help our community; and what our end goal is. It’s been challenging to find people along the way who are willing to not just commit their time and energy to Sacred Cycle, but to help us evolve. To grow in a way that makes the most of our mission and best serves the people who need our program.”
Why do you think gaining funding is a challenge? Do you think it’s stigma, or society still being uncomfortable talking about the issues?
3. How do you think we can change it?
Heather: “Continued awareness and exposure to the impact of this issue. Changes are happening, and more so since the #metoo movement started. It’s been really amazing to see all the male support Sacred Cycle has received.”
What do you think would help to improve the public’s awareness of the issue and its impact?
4. What does the perfect future look like?
Heather: “Is it too much to dream that no human going forward has to experience the terror of being forced against their will? It would be amazing if survivors could collectively give back the shame and stigma to their perpetrators. It’s absurd that survivors end up taking this on.”
How can we, as a community, do more to support survivors of sexual trauma?