September 12, 2012 - The Polly Ann Trail is bracing itself for what's most likely the largest bicycle ride in its history.
Oxford resident Michelle Hrischuk is looking to raise money to establish a suicide awareness/prevention program. (click for larger version)
At least 332 people and counting are expected to participate in the First Annual Tour de Shane on Saturday, Sept. 15 from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m.
"My goal was really 100. My dream was 300," said Oxford resident Michelle Hrischuk. "I have a feeling we may have close to 500. It's going to be bigger than I thought, which I'm glad."
The event is being organized by the Hrischuk family as a way to keep their late son Shane's memory alive along with raising money and awareness for suicide prevention.
"You never want the memory of your son or daughter to go away," said Michelle, who's Shane's mother.
Back in late January, Shane Hrischuk, a popular eighth-grader at Oxford Middle School, took his own life. His sudden death shocked the community and made a profound impact on both kids and adults alike.
The bike ride will take place on Shane's birthday.
"He would have been 15 on the 15th," Michelle said. "It's going to be a hard day for us, so we wanted to surround ourselves with friends and the community."
The ride will take participants past Ridgelawn Memorial Cemetery, where Shane's buried. A tent will be set up there featuring bubbles, cookies and "orange drink," Shane's favorite.
"I really want everyone to come out and have a good time," Michelle said. "I want everyone to have fun. Be with their families. Go on a nice bike ride. Spend more time together."
The ride will begin at Christ the King Church (1550 W. Drahner Rd.), which donated $1,000 to the event. Registration starts at 8 a.m. and the ride begins at 9 a.m.
The ride itself will consist of 5, 10 and 20-mile routes along the Polly Ann Trail. The 20-mile ride is a round-trip trek between the church and the Village of Leonard. Walkers are welcome, too.
The Hrischuks chose the trail for two reasons 1) it goes right past Ridgelawn Cemetery and 2) they've been using it a lot this year.
"We've been riding it quite a bit since Shane passed away," said Michelle, referring to herself and husband, Joe. "It gives us some peace of mind. It gives us some good time to talk."
The Hrischuks have adopted the portion of the trail that runs between W. Burdick St. and the pedestrian bridge over M-24. "It's one of those things we can do that helps us and helps them," Michelle said.
Michelle is extremely grateful for all the support she's received from the trail's management council.
"They really helped sponsor us and get this off the ground," she said. "The insurance was really expensive (for the event). It was $800. They put us on (their policy) as a rider."
Those seeking an alternative route are welcome to bike or walk to downtown Oxford and visit all the businesses that supported through sponsorships and donations the Tour de Shane. They will be featured on a map.
"We probably have 150 gift certificates or prizes," said Michelle, who noted two bicycles, a VISA gift card and art work from Merge Studio & Gallery and ArtCapsule are among the prizes. "We're just going to draw names out of a hat."
Information from suicide prevention groups such as Compassionate Friends and Common Ground will be available at the event as well as information about organ donation.
Shane's organs were donated to five individuals. His pancreas and right kidney went to a 29-year-old man. His left kidney was received by a 46-year-old man, while his liver was given to a 58-year-old man. As for Shane's heart, that went to a 55-year-old man and both of his lungs are now breathing life into another 55-year-old man.
Registration fees for the Tour de Shane are $30 for adults and $20 for youth.
The Hrischuks plan to use the proceeds to help establish a suicide awareness/prevention/counseling program for the Oxford school district because "we have an obvious problem in our community."
"We have bullying programs in place. We have SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) in place. We have lots of wonderful programs in our school, but we don't have a suicide awareness program in our school," Michelle explained.
Michelle and Joe aren't just looking to donate money for the program, then walk away. They want to be hands-on volunteers who talk to both students and parents.
"I think Joe and I would like to work with the teenagers and the young adults because that's what we see around us in our area," she said. "I would like to be able to help other parents who are going through the same thing."
"This has been awful for us," Michelle added. "We don't want it to happen to anybody else."
They're even preparing to take classes so they can learn the proper way to counsel others.
"I need to know what to say to be trained in how to help others," she said.
The main thing is to get people talking.
"I want to go into the schools and spread awareness and teach the kids to talk about it," Michelle said. "(If you're depressed or having thoughts of suicide), tell somebody. Tell your friend. Tell a doctor."
Michelle noted how suicide, both before and after, is still considered a taboo topic.
"No one's talking about it that's why awareness is so important," she said. "People are ashamed. People don't share their experiences because they're embarrassed. We just want people to speak out about it."
Fortunately, because the Hrischuks are so visible within the community, people have felt comfortable enough to break their silence.
"So many people have come up to me and told me their stories," Michelle said. "I can't even tell you how many."
She said some families are in denial about the suicides they've faced. They want to think it was an accident. They tell other people it was an accident.
Michelle knows it was no accident with Shane, who shot himself. And she's not afraid to admit to anyone.
"We would love to think it was an accident, but it wasn't," she said. "He knew what he was doing. It was an impulse decision. He had no mental illness."
"He did a stupid thing," Michelle noted. "He was a great kid who did a stupid thing."
Michelle admitted that she and her husband should have talked to Shane about suicide and reaching out if he needed help.
"Had we known (this was going to happen), we should have been talking to Shane and (his brother) Corey about it for many, many years," she said.
"You say the same things to your kids all the time," she continued. "We always tell them don't drink and drive. Don't take drugs. Wait to have sex . . . There's so many things we say to them everyday. But we never say if you ever feel depressed or have thoughts of suicide, talk to us, talk to someone. Now we talk to Corey about it all the time."
For more information about the Tour de Shane or to register on-line, please visit www.tourdeshane.com
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.