Former basketball pro embarks on 1,500-mile bike ride for mental health

Former basketball pro embarks on 1,500-mile bike ride for mental health

Mental health for Black and Indigenous men is staggeringly inadequate, he says

In a year rife with people demonstrating much more vocal activism over social and human rights issues, at least one Alaska man will be putting his money where his mouth is — over 1,500 miles of riding.

Damen Bell-Holter, a former professional basketball player originally from Hydaburg, will be riding with others from Bellingham, Washington, to San Diego over more than a month to raise money and awareness for inadequacies in mental health care for Black and Indigenous men, which Bell-Holter can speak to as someone who is both Black and Haida.

“We need to create more resources for boys. We need to have those conversations,” Bell-Holter said in a phone interview. “The big picture is that the $100,000 we’re going after will be dispersed among 20 communities. That $5,000 isn’t going to save the day, but it’ll create those conversations. It’s going to put the responsibility on those tribes and communities to say, they did something, now we have to support it and create safe spaces for the men in their community.”

Break the (Bi)Cycle is a movement started by former professional basketball player Damen Bell-Holter to raise money and awareness about the dearth of mental health care for Black and Indigenous men. Bell-Holter will ride from Bellingham, Wash., to San Diego, Calif., more than 1,500 miles, while visiting tribes and documenting the trip. (Courtesy Image / Break the (Bi)Cycle)                                Break the (Bi)Cycle is a movement started by former professional basketball player Damen Bell-Holter to raise money and awareness about the dearth of mental health care for Black and Indigenous men. Bell-Holter will ride from Bellingham, Wash., to San Diego, Calif., more than 1,500 miles, while visiting tribes and documenting the trip. (Courtesy Image / Break the (Bi)Cycle)

Break the (Bi)Cycle is a movement started by former professional basketball player Damen Bell-Holter to raise money and awareness about the dearth of mental health care for Black and Indigenous men. Bell-Holter will ride from Bellingham, Wash., to San Diego, Calif., more than 1,500 miles, while visiting tribes and documenting the trip. (Courtesy Image / Break the (Bi)Cycle) Break the (Bi)Cycle is a movement started by former professional basketball player Damen Bell-Holter to raise money and awareness about the dearth of mental health care for Black and Indigenous men. Bell-Holter will ride from Bellingham, Wash., to San Diego, Calif., more than 1,500 miles, while visiting tribes and documenting the trip. (Courtesy Image / Break the (Bi)Cycle)

His group is called ‘Break the (Bi)Cycle,” a reference to the self-fueling nature of violence. The ride’s goal is to raise money to help different tribes buy bikes for the boys and men of those tribes to get out on the road, where they can use the sport as a form of therapy.

[School repairs get priority in bond package]

“The big picture is, we want to make bicycling more accessible to underrepresented spaces,” Bell-Holter said. “Biking is kind of an expensive sport. It’s sparked a lot of cool local initiatives, which is what I wanted.”

The ride is being sponsored logistically and financially by organizations including GCI, Patagonia, and the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium. Bike shops, including Cycle Alaska Juneau and The Bicycle Shop in Anchorage, also helped outfit members of the group for the ride.

“It literally just started from me identifying cycling as one of my avenues of therapy,” Bell-Holter said. “When COVID started, I went on the road and found a bike. I saw that other men, men of color particularly, wanted to participate.”

Bell-Holter said he’d seen similar campaigns, but the topic is one he’s long held close, speaking and raising awareness of across Alaska and elsewhere. There’s a large gap in the availability and effectiveness of mental health care for Black and Indigenous men, especially in Alaska, Bell-Holter said, resulting in intergenerational trauma that can lead to some of the highest rates of death by suicide and substance misuse in the country.

“I’ve been bouncing my head off the wall about this for a few years. There’s so much violence and abuse in Alaska. What does prevention look like,” Bell-Holter said. “There’s a lot of trauma that outside people don’t understand. Non-Native and non-Indigenous people don’t understand there’s a lot of intergenerational trauma that’s not visible from the outside.”

Former basketball pro embarks on 1,500-mile bike ride for mental health

Stepping off on Aug. 30, Bell-Holter, along with more than half a dozen other men, intend to ride the route from Bellingham south to San Diego over the course of a month, stopping at various tribes on the way down the coast. Others will join for parts of the ride, including Nick Hanson, of American Ninja Warrior fame.

“I’m gonna go for a week. A lot of influential athletes in the state of Alaska are involved,” Hanson said in a phone interview. “The guys we’re putting together are ex-University of Alaska Anchorage basketball athletes, ex-cross country runners. Most of them are in our little pickup basketball crew that we’ve been playing with for years.”

Raising awareness is nothing new for Hanson either, who often speaks out supporting suicide risk and prevention awareness.

“He (Bell-Holter) reached out to me to see if I wanted to take part. With my platform on American Ninja Warrior, I’ve talked about suicide prevention for the last six years,” Hanson said. “I can’t even explain it. It’s gonna be such a good thing. We’re not just going to be going, we’re going to be stopping with various tribes and indigenous people along the way.”

Want to help or follow along?

People can follow the journey on the Break the (Bi)Cycle’s Instagram page, and donate to the nonprofit’s financial goal on their GoFundMe page.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

The agenda of the trip for Break the (Bi)Cycle. (Courtesy Image / Break the (Bi)Cycle)

The agenda of the trip for Break the (Bi)Cycle. (Courtesy Image / Break the (Bi)Cycle)

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of May 18

Here’s what to expect this week.

Rep. Sara Hannan (left) and Rep. Andi Story, both Juneau Democrats, talk during a break in floor debate Sunday, May 12, at the Alaska State Capitol. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Juneau’s legislative delegation reflects on lots of small items with big impacts passed during session

Public radio for remote communities, merit scholarships, fishing loans among lower-profile successes

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks about his vision for Alaska’s energy future at the Connecting the Arctic conference held in Anchorage on Monday. Next to him is Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, invited to Anchorage to speak at this week’s Alaska Sustainable Energy Conference. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Gov. Dunleavy examining energy bills passed by Alaska Legislature

Expresses optimism about carbon storage bill, pondering next steps on royalty relief that failed.

(Michael Penn/ Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Sunday, May 19, 2024

For Sunday, May 19 Assault At 8:20 p.m. on Sunday, 32-year-old John… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Saturday, May 18, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Fay Herold, a delegate at the Alaska Democratic Party’s state convention, expresses concerns about a proposed change to the party’s platform on Saturday at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Alaska Democrats gather in Juneau to make party plans for national convention in Chicago

Peltola, national party chairman among speakers; delegates get advice from protester at 1968 event.

A lamb-decorated headstone lays half hidden in a cemetery section in Douglas on Monday, Aug. 13, 2018. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Shaky deals from past haunt efforts to preserve Douglas cemeteries today

As volunteers struggle to clear brush at historic sites, city leaders say they have limited options.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Friday, May 17, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, May 16, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read