On Sunday night, I sat in my car (for some peace and quiet) so I could interview this exordinary fellow – Stephen Murphy (30) from Lisdowney. Stephen captivated me for two hours on the phone with his stories of an expedition that he is currently undertaking - a solo cycle along the coastal regions of Ireland.
Stephen is not a professional cyclist by any means, but just an ordinary lad on a bike raising awareness about suicide while doing something exordinary. Stephen’s ‘Break the Cycle’ is a fundraising initiative for Teac Tom, but more importantly this young man wants to raise awareness about men’s mental health. In his words “the money raised is for a local cause, but the awareness is national.”
Over four weeks, the amateur cyclist is embarking on a 3,500km unsupported solo cycle travelling around the coast of Ireland from Kinsale back to Kinsale. Cycling on average 150km a day, he is covering the entirety of the Wild Atlantic Way, the Giant Causeway Route, Mourne Valley Drive and hugging the coast from Dublin back to Kinsale. He hopes to finish this heroic journey by the end of August.
This trip has not being without a few bumps on the way, but Stephen will happily say himself that there is no hill that he hasn’t feared, fought and conquered in all aspects of his life and on this road trip.
His aim is to raise €5,000 for Teac Tom. He has already surpassed this amount, but is pushing on for more. As Stephen says himself, every euro raised, could directly translate into a life saved.
Here is a glimpse into Stephen’s solo cycle on the road…
Stephen, why Teac Tom and why this challenge?
Teac Tom are providing a vital role in the community with a walk in service and text service that all people can avail of, in an accessible and non-clinician environment. It’s a service for people struggling with their own situation. Teac Tom is fairly unique, in that it doesn’t receive any government funding. On top of the current crisis, with little fundraising and a surge in the demands of their services, they need our help.
I admit myself that the hardest day on this cycle is no comparison to the days I couldn’t get out of bed. Not from laziest but from depression. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, I simply couldn’t. The more people are aware of this illness, the more we can help one another. So that’s why I have taking to the road, to spread the word.
Tell me about the people that have come out to help you in their droves.
There’s far too many to put on paper Siobhan, but there’s been a ripple effect in every town I passed through.
Off the top of my head, here’s a few that stand out. I passed Drumcliffe Graveyard in Sligo (resting place of WB Yeats) on week two and I met three guys who identified as "the gravediggers".
When I told them what I was doing, the boss man immediately took out his wallet and gave this €50 contribution to the cause and said "if this money means that I've to dig one less grave prematurely it will be the best money I've ever spent". This reinforces the purpose of my journey and why the contributions will help change and even save lives.
I also met the public heroes that have road in behind e.g. motivational speaker Pat Divilly, hoteliers the Brennan Brothers, John Burke who recently climbed Mount Everest, Imogen Cotter professional Irish Cyclist on the world stage and Shane Finn who cycled across American.
There are also a lot of unsung heroes such as Anne Hegarty from Durrus – a healthcare worker who let me camp in her garden and provided me with cups of tea and breakfast to help me on my way.
The sense of community in small towns has been immense. They can’t do enough for me to help me up the road. Influencers on my journey don’t have to be from the TV or famous, it has being everybody on the way.
You are burning up to 9,000 calories a day. So who is feeding and fuelling you?
I feel like the boy who ate world, the network of Irish mammies around the country are feeding me to bursting point!
I have had more steak dinners and warm beds than I could imagine. I have spent very few nights in my actual tent and every day my call out for help had been heard. The generosity has been immense and sometimes the people you least expect to help, have being the first to step forward and offer assistance.
The money being raised is not your ultimate goal.
Yes and no, the money is for Teac Tom services in Kilkenny but the awareness is far greater as that is nationwide. If you can’t afford to denote, please just pass on a good deed instead. Raising money is the cure in the short term, but raising awareness is prevention in the long run. People’s mental health shouldn’t have to get to breaking point before they receive the help they need.
It’s being said that you are defying expectations and the limits set by the cycling community.
I am a firm believer in what the mind will do the body will follow. At the end of the day I’m just an ordinary lad on a bicycle, and if you find a cause good enough you would be amazed how much you can push your body to achieve the goals. If somebody tells you - you can’t do something, just trust your gut and believe in yourself.
Your hero Pat Divilly, has come to meet you on route and has called you an inspiration.
Yes I met him through a friend of a new friend, they reached out to Pat for me. We spent an hour in a beer garden, an hour I will never forget. Looking into his eyes, you are looking into an universe of information and knowledge. People pay in the hundreds to have an advisory session with Pat and there he was meeting me on route to give me his time.
It was surreal, I heard he could meet me at short notice so I cycled 82km non-stop across the Burren to get to the meeting point. This was after eight days in saddle and by God I was not going to miss the chance.
He told me my story was inspiring because when ordinary people do exordinary things that’s what makes the world inspiring.
What nugget of information did he part with you?
Believe in the power of people. Personally I suffer fiercely from disappointment of expectations that I have of others. Pat explained to me that most people want to help, and if they won’t help, it’s because they can’t help.
I think we all need to hear what actor Owen Colgan had to say to you about living in the moment?
Capturing the moment doesn't necessarily mean reaching for your phone straight away to take that picture. Capturing the moment means being present in the situation whether it be putting away your phone while out for dinner with friends or not video recording a concert when it's live in front of you. How often do you even look back on these?
Talking with Owen Colgan on this trip brought me to the realisation that society and especially younger generations are so busy in building an online bank of memories. So much so, that we are missing out on the present moments that are right in front of us. Life is beautiful, raw and unfiltered. It doesn't rely on good Wi-Fi signal or likes and follows so just go out and live it.
Conor’s Pass is one of the highest mountain pass roads in Ireland. How did you manage it with the added challenge of 30kg of luggage?
My goal started off with the getting to the top, as it got tougher I broke my goal down to smaller wins and eventually to just each turn of the pedal. I build a wall of little wins that far out way the negatives. The most important kilometre every day is the first one, the rest after that are just a bonus.
What do you want to do after finishing this incredible feat?
I want to continue the momentum that I have built up along this journey. The scariest day for me is going to be the down I finish this challenge. That is a real worry of mine. I don’t want this to be a flash in the pan, I’m in it to make a real difference.
I want to start with the most vulnerable and get men used to talking about their feelings by starting up small chat groups. Just like the hills I faced on this cycle, we’ll make big change by one turn of the pedal at the time.
People can donate on www.idonate.ieBreakTheCycle