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Uplifting memoir on cycling helps with grief

Just as the 2016 Tour de France kicked off, Craig Fry’s small, uplifting memoir about how cycling helped him cope with his father’s sudden death was quietly released.

As the world focused on professional cycling at the highest level, Associate Professor Fry’s book softly shone the spotlight on the accidental role cycling played in helping with grief and depression.

Ride: A Memoir to my Father tells how Associate Professor Fry, from the Centre for Cultural Diversity and Wellbeing at Victoria University, dealt with the shock and crippling grief of losing his father.

He writes openly and movingly about how cycling helped him deal with the dark depths of grief.

The book, which is bringing great comfort to others, provides an unique perspective around the greater benefits of cycling itself.

"I was not prepared at all for my father’s death," he says. "It was a great shock, and the resulting grief floored me.

"The people around me seemed under prepared too – the daily conversations at work, around the dinner table, with family, and even out riding bikes with friends didn’t often accommodate deeper dialogue around the bereavement experience."

His father, Lindsay, died at home alone from a pulmonary embolism days after his first dose of chemotherapy, only seven weeks following a diagnosis of terminal cancer in his lung and spine. He was two weeks short of his 70th birthday.

Death is indeed a difficult, uncomfortable topic. As Fry quickly found, most people – men especially – simply did not want to delve too deeply into his sorrow.

A cycling enthusiast and writer, he turned to his bike not realising it would be an active yet practical outlet for dealing with his grief.

"In the depths of grief, I didn’t always possess the words to describe and understand what I was feeling but I was lucky enough to discover quickly that cycling helped me."

Although he started writing the book as a diversion from the sadness in his own life, Fry is pleased it is bringing comfort to others.

The book is a deeply personal account of loss and grief, and how the simple act of riding a bike through familiar places kept his father’s memory alive – and kept him going in his darkest moments.

Since its release, it has been a popular seller in the cycling category and mental/spiritual healing category on the Amazon Australia bestseller lists.

Fry concedes that he is not an academic expert in this area, but writing about his own experiences made him wonder more about the role of the humble bicycle – especially when it comes to mental health and wellbeing. 

"Available evidence suggests that physical activity and exercise like cycling can have a positive impact on mental health, and could be one helpful strategy for some people experiencing grief," he says.

"However, it is also clear that cycling is unlikely to be a ‘cure all’ for everyone, or for the most severe forms of complicated grief, clinical depression, or other mental health illnesses."

While cycling helped Fry live with and understand his grief, he also points to the important role many others – including his wife, family, relatives, friends, and his father’s friends – played.

"Mile-for-mile though, I found the simple act of riding a bike was the best thing I could do to stay well," he says.

"The hundreds of hours and thousands of kilometres I spent riding after my father’s death worked for me. Cycling helped me bring together my physical, emotional, and cognitive energies in a focus on moving towards an understanding of what it really meant to lose my father. I am still learning."

Ride: A Memoir to my Father was published by Hampress. A percentage of sales from the book will be donated to the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement.

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