Micaela Wexler couldn’t have been more excited to pedal into the parking lot of the Johnson County Mental Health Center on Monday morning.
Riding in the 11th annual Bike for the Brain event wasn’t just a way for the Kansas City psychiatrist to help a worthy cause; it was also a personal victory.
In October 2010, Wexler was working in a Missouri hospital when she was attacked by a patient — someone who had gone a long time, she said, without mental health care. Wexler suffered cracked ribs and a concussion in the attack.
“I had gone on a bike ride that morning,” she said, “but I hadn’t been back on a bike since.”
Until Monday, when she participated in the community bicycle ride designed to educate the public about mental health issues and raise funds for area agencies that serve those with mental health challenges.
“I decided what better time to get back on a bike than now — to advocate for mental health awareness and funding,” Wexler said as she chatted with some new friends she’d just made on the 10-mile ride. “At first I was a little afraid of doing anything that might involve pain. But I found a friendly group, and I did it, and it felt great!”
Hundreds of cyclists, walkers and volunteers participated in Monday’s event, which began in Mission and ran all day and included cycling courses of up to 65 miles, an adult “Tricycle Challenge” and a one-mile “Recovery Walk.” Another feature was a “Fender Blender,” a contraption on the back of a two-seat bicycle whose rotors turned when someone pedaled the bike to create some tasty-looking smoothies.
Event coordinator Ken Sonnenschein said the money raised will go to local mental health agencies.
“I would like people to know that mental health is real, it’s common, and it’s OK to talk about it,” said Sonnenschein, a Kansas City psychiatrist. “Mental health agencies are the lowest on the totem pole in terms of funding from the government or insurance or even private donations. There are things that are a lot more attractive for donors, so that’s the whole idea of this — to give people the opportunity to participate.”
Those working in mental health fields in the community are encouraged to apply for a grant, Sonnenschein said.
“We seek applications in January,” he said, “and the grants are decided in February.”
Jake Mitchell, of Kansas City, was the first to finish the 10-mile course.
“I looked around for races and saw this a couple of months ago,” he said. “I saw it was for a good cause, so I decided to come on out and do my part for mental health.”
Bob Vervaecke of Basehor in Leavenworth County paused to grab a drink and catch his breath after finishing his ride.
“This is the second ride like this that I’ve ever done,” he said. “We did it for a great cause. There are members of my family who will benefit from this.”
An added bonus, Vervaecke said, is the camaraderie that develops among participants.
“I’ve met some great people on the ride,” he said. “The whole social aspect of this — just meeting people — has been amazing. We knew each other’s names before we even left on the course.”
Susan Henry was among his new friends.
“I like to do the community bike rides,” said Henry of Kansas City. “My partner used to work with people in recovery from head injuries, and I used to work with kids with emotional disturbance issues. So it’s nice to be able to support a cause like this.”
Manuel Morales, a Kansas City child psychiatrist, rode the 10-mile course with his daughter, her fiance and her fiance’s son, whom Manuel towed in a cart behind his bike.
“I’ve been doing this for the last few years,” Morales said. “This is an important cause for me.”
His passenger-in-tow gave the event a thumbs-up.
“It was awesome,” Aiden Wohletz, 6, said as he enjoyed a lollipop afterward. “I got all of the bumps!”