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Eastern grad, students pedal 600 miles to raise mental health awareness

Published on June 16, 2021

Eastern grad, students pedal 600 miles to raise mental health awareness

'The Valley Boys Ride' benefits mental illness charity

The bike ride began on a rainy, late-May day in Greenwich. Left to right: Matt Mocker, Brendan Tew, Bryan Guetens, Jake Sullivan, Eddie Melton, Russell Kwatkye

On the third day, the Eastern group biked through New Jersey into Pennsylvania.

Independence Hall, Philadelphia, PA.

The Valley Boys Ride gather for a celebratory photo at their destination in the Outer Banks, NC, after 13 days of riding.

Six Eastern Connecticut State University students and alumni recently concluded a 600-mile bike ride to raise awareness of mental health issues. The group, known as “The Valley Boys Ride,” concluded their two-week journey in mid-June in the Outer Banks, NC, and raised more than $5,000 for the National Alliance of Mental Illness of Connecticut (NAMI CT).

The ride was led by recent graduate Bryan Guetens ’21 and included friends Brendan Tew '23, Matt Mocker '22, Jake Sullivan '22, Eddie Melton '21 and Russell Kwakye '22. The 600-mile ride began in Greenwich, CT, and primarily followed the East Coast Greenway.

The topic of mental health is very close to Guetens, as he has lost two family members to suicide — his brother and his grandmother. “I did this in memory of them as well as for everyone who suffers from mental illness,” said Guetens.

Baltimore
At the end of day five, the group attended an Orioles baseball game in Baltimore.

“There is a negative stigma around mental health. It seems that you can't be open about your mental health, and if you are, you’re looked at differently. The message we were trying to send is that you are not alone, and that it’s okay to not be okay. It takes a lot of strength to open up to others about your mental health and to seek help. I believe that if you try and get help, you are strong. It takes a lot of courage for someone to do so.”

The Valley Boys Ride met many people along their journey and were intentional about raising mental health awareness. “Most nights when we were done riding, we would go out and tell people what we were doing and many of them supported us and the cause,” said Guetens.  

The Eastern group enjoyed many sights along the way. They made stops in Philadelphia and saw Independence Hall; Baltimore and caught an Orioles baseball game; Annapolis, MD, and visited the United States Naval Academy; and Washington, D.C., where they saw such landmarks as the Capitol Building, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery.

“There were a lot of days where the trail took us down roads where the scenery was beautiful,” said Guetens. “We would soak it in, it was truly amazing.”

So far, the Valley Boys Ride has raised more than $5,000 for NAMI CT. Supporters can donate to the cause until June 30 by visiting their Instagram page at @thevalleyboysride.

Guetens will attend Merrimack College on a graduate fellowship for strength and conditioning. He aspires to be a head strength and conditioning coach at the collegiate level.

Written by Michael Rouleau