Riding almost 3,000 miles across the United States would be a feat for someone of any age. I know I couldn’t do it. But Ripon College graduate Carole Atherton could — and did. Did I mention she’s not a recent graduate? In fact, the Oregon resident has been out of school for 47 years now. The 68-year-old biked straight from Seattle, Wash., to Northfield, Minn., with a group of riders. Not satisfied, she continued on her own (with ride support from a friend) from there — passing through Ripon earlier this summer, and eventually finishing in Glen Ellen, Ill. It wasn’t on a whim — she had a good reason. Carole was riding in support of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). It’s an organization close to her heart, since her son suffers from schizoaffective disorder. Never bet against mom power.
“I found out about NAMI on line,” Carole said. “Schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder (which my son has) and bipolar disorder usually do not strike until the late teens or early 20s. So, as a parent, a person is suddenly thrust into trying to deal with a serious illness in a child who, up until then, had been mentally healthy. “When a loved one is affected by mental illness, I think most people search frantically for any sources of help that they can find. In doing that, I found NAMI.” ... That got her on the road. Fond memories of Ripon brought her here. “The course for my ride between Seattle and Northfield, Minn., was set by Cycle America, the group with whom I rode for the first five weeks,” she said. “I designed my own ride through Wisconsin and into Illinois ... “Ripon was actually out-of-the-way in terms of making a beeline between Northfield and Chicago.” But, as many Ripon College graduates are wont to do, she had to come back to her college home. “I have many happy memories of Ripon. I think I received an excellent education there,” she said. “I loved that students were encouraged to assume responsibility. ... Ripon provided a wonderful foundation for remaining curious and continuing to seek knowledge throughout life and working hard but also taking time for fun.” That’s why she had to come back. “I just thought it would be fun, as long as I was relatively close anyway, to return to Ripon by bike, and it was,” she said. “Ric Damm, the Ripon cycling coach, rode from Ripon and I rode from Reedsburg and we met in Portage and then rode together back to Ripon. I was honored that he did that ... Hills around Ripon are not an easy ride, even for someone who had just finished riding over the Cascades and the Rockies! There are some steep climbs and they just keep coming.”
Regardless of such challenges, Carole found the trip worthwhile. ... For as much fun as she had, Carole admits she “cried when I crossed into my sister’s home county [in Illinois] because I knew I was going to make it,” she said. “The ride was genuinely hard physical work. “In my mind, the ride was an homage to my son, who has struggled with mental illness since his late teens. I definitely did not want to have to give up short of my goal, just as I never intend to give up striving to help him, and I hope he never gives up trying to live a fulfilling life despite his challenges.” She returned, not only with the ride complete and plenty of memories, but also $3,410 in donations for NAMI.... Want to know more about Carole’s trip across America? You can relive the experience by following her blog at www.namimom.com.
To read the entire column, see the Sept. 6, 2012 edition of The Ripon Commonwealth Press.