From Canada to Mexico: Hockinson teacher bikes for suicide prevention

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A map on one Hockinson teacher’s classroom wall drapes from the ceiling to floor, outlining the West Coast. A streak of red marker follows a 1,700-mile journey from Canada to Mexico, accessible by bike.

The classroom belongs to fourth grade teacher Jeremy Duggins. The map displays the 47-day trip he just completed at the beginning of August to raise awareness and funds for suicide prevention.

Duggins first got the idea to address mental health issues by having conversations with his students last spring.

“I wanted to show my students that you can do anything that you set your heart and mind toward doing,” Duggins said.

His idea really took off when he started a GoFundMe page with a goal of $5,000 that would benefit the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention.

“I thought, ‘that’s a pretty good chunk of change,’” Duggins said.

Several parents of his past students contacted him to say, “You probably want to raise that goal because you’re going to reach it long before you even leave for the trip.”

With this new mentality, Duggins decided to “go big” so he changed the fundraising goal to $30,000.

As of Aug. 20, the GoFundMe page had brought in $17,950 with 180 people donating throughout the last four months.

The mileage of his planned trip wasn’t unfamiliar to Duggins. Five years prior, he traveled from Battle Ground to the border of Mexico on his outfitted bike.

“It always bugged me that I didn’t complete the Washington section so I wanted to add that in,” Duggins said.

Last time, he hadn’t trained and he hadn’t prepared much. His muscles cramped for weeks afterwards. Duggins said his lack of planning and anxiety disorder caused panic attacks.

This summer’s ride was going to be different.

Starting in March, he began mapping out a bike path from Washington to Southern California that included campgrounds, motels and special stops along the way.

Duggins trained more intensely by practicing cycling on hills near Hockinson. He used many pieces of gear that he bought during his last journey.

The physical part of the training paled in comparison to the mental game of riding a bike in the middle of nowhere for multiple days.

“You can get inside your head and you can start thinking too much,” Duggins said. “I really had to prepare for that too.”

On average, Duggins would clock in around 50 miles each day during his journey. On his longest days, he would cover up to 78 miles.

“I had to actually slow down toward the end of my ride because I was way ahead of schedule,” he said.

As Duggins reached his designation at the border of Mexico, his friends and family were waiting for him, cheering him on.

Before he set out on his bike, one of the parents in the Hockinson School District reached out to Duggins through Facebook. They told him their daughter had just completed film school and was on the search for a project.

Marcie Caddell created a 19-minute documentary, released July 4, which follows Duggins’ journey over the course of 1,700 miles on his path to raise awareness about mental health and prevent suicide.

Duggins, who didn’t use social media, had to learn how to document his journey through Facebook livestreams, TikTok posts and Instagram photos so his supporters could follow along.

Duggins dedicated each day on the ride to a different person who died by suicide. On Facebook live, he would say their name, age and something they loved about life.

“I got so many messages from people,” he said. “My list of people that I was riding for just got longer, longer and longer.”

Duggins didn’t become an activist overnight, though. A few of his close friends and his cousin died by suicide. Then in 1997, Duggins found himself in a troubling time, which ultimately led to him attempting suicide.

“I feel like I have the knowledge to help people through (mental health struggles,)” he said. “I felt like it was time to let that all out and share what I’ve learned over the years from my personal experiences with suicide.”

Fundraising aside, his main focus was to encourage people to talk more openly about their emotions and feelings.

Duggins said when someone dies by suicide, people who knew the individual will often say things, like “I didn’t even know that person was depressed,” or “I didn’t know that person was suffering.”

He attributes the lack of communication about mental health to a stigma in society.

“I think it would help save a lot of lives if we raised kids to be more open to talking about how they feel,” Duggins said. “When they become adults, they would already have a support group so they’re not dealing with that on their own and trying to navigate the most difficult part of life all by themselves.”

Now, Duggins is home and back in his classroom preparing for the upcoming school year, which starts Sept. 1.

He plans to continue riding his bike and raising money for those impacted by suicide and other mental health illnesses.

Duggins’ GoFundMe page can be found online at charity.gofundme.com/o/en/campaign/cycling-for-suicide-prevention.

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