DENVER (KDVR) — A former NBA player and a professional skier are teaming up and taking on a new sport to help save lives.
Damen Bell is a member of the Haida People of Alaska. He retired from basketball three years ago and decided to use his success to help improve the lives of others in Black and Indigenous communities throughout the country.
“At the end of the day there’s a lot of history and there’s a lot of trauma that hasn’t been spoken about,” Bell told FOX31.
Bell says in his own village of 300 people in Hydaberg, Alaska, there is are problems with alcoholism, domestic violence and a lack of role models for young men.
“Indigenous men commit suicide at the highest rate. Black Indigenous men are among the highest murder demographics,” he said.
Bell came up with an idea to start a conversation about mental wellness among marginalized communities by taking long bike rides and posing about them on social media. It morphed into a movement called “Breaking the (Bi)cycle”.
He aimed to create a positive environment where Black and Indigenous men could work on mental health, while also raising money to fund grants to start mental health programs in Indigenous communities.
The keynote event is a 1600 mile ride across the west.
“And I was like, I’m going to bike down the Oregon coast,” Bell said.
Colorado skier Connor Ryan decided to join Bell on the journey. Ryan’s heritage is Lakota. His family is from the the Standing Rock Reservation in South Dakota.
“As a professional skier I really see getting outdoors as a way to help mental health,” Ryan said.
They originally planned to start in Vancouver, Canada and pedal to San Diego. That plan was scrapped due to the closure of the U.S.-Canada border. Instead, they started in Seattle, but were forced to cut the trip short due to the wildfires in Oregon and California.
“We could have easily opted out. We could have said these fires are a reason to give up,” Bell said.
They did not give up.
“I think it’s indicative of what this fight is. We can’t stop this mental health fight for our people just because there’s obstacles. That’s what the whole road ahead of us is,” Ryan said.
They relocated to the Rocky Mountains and are now riding from the Riverton, Wyoming to Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“We’re just getting this ball rolling and it’s an exciting feeling,” Ryan said.
The pair says the long, hard miles are worth it knowing they are making a difference.
“In 2020 there’s so many social justice movements and warriors sitting behind keyboards and not doing anything and putting their action where their words are,” Bell said.
While the ultimate goal is to improve mental health for Black and Indigenous communities, Ryan and Bell are also asking people to seek out information and learn about tribal injustices.
“That history that you look at as history is still the reality that we have to live with every day,” Ryan said.