AusCycling | Matt's story - how cycling helped him ride through the pandemic

Matt's story - how cycling helped him ride through the pandemic

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If you or someone you love is in need of support, Lifeline (13 11 14) is available 24/7, free of charge.

Like it is for most growing up in Australia, bike riding was a way of life for Matt Nash. However, as he began his professional career and started a family, his bike spent more and more time gathering dust in the garage.

Then one day while on holiday in 2007, Matt watched in awe as thousands of cyclists rode past his house as they enjoyed the mass participation event 'Amy's Ride'.

"Aside from the sheer number of people, what really struck me was hearing the riders talking and how happy they all were laughing in their groups. From that moment, the clock was ticking."

Within a few months, Matt had secured his perfect bike - a second-hand BMC Street Machine in Phonak colours – before joining a Saturday shop ride in basketball shorts, t-shirt, and Carnac Velcro clip-in shoes.

MattNash


Fifteen years on, there is hardly a day where cycling has not been in Matt's life. From commuting, bunch rides, or a ride to the shops, Matt takes full advantage of Melbourne's cycling facilities such as the Hawthorn Velodrome, Kew Boulevard or the network of bike paths and trails.

"In the course of that very first shop ride, I had a bunch of new friends and had discovered a new community.

"The friendships I have on the bike are some of the strongest I have. I have a great ‘bunch’, and we have been around a while and have our own legends, imagined hierarchies, tipping comps and organised 'events'.

"The group rides are a chance to connect with people outside of the day to day, talk, laugh and build shared experiences – it is hard to imagine life without this bunch. Unfortunately, earlier this year, we lost a key member of our group to stroke. He was our 'DS', chief protagonist, and motivator, and we miss him terribly.

"I can't imagine what it would be like to lose a friend and not have that support network around you as we have had."

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While Matt loves his time with his new cycling family and community, he believes one of cycling's most remarkable qualities is that it can be enjoyed solo or with others.

"As important as the group rides are, the solo rides are critical for the internal conversations. For some reason, perspective is easier to grasp on a bike, often I will get back from these rides and barely remember where I have been, but I will have answers, solutions or questions that I didn't have before."

In March 2020, Matt's everyday way of life came to an abrupt halt when the COVID Pandemic hit Australia and shut down the arts and entertainment industries, among others.

As a production and stage manager for a local Melbourne opera company, Australian Contemporary Opera Company, and a casual stage manager for the Melbourne Recital Centre, Matt’s profession was affected when the industry shut down.

While they were able to move their fledgling Yarra Valley Opera Festival online in what became the world's first online opera festivals, repeated lockdowns forced further cancellations and postponements of events within the industry.

While Matt no longer had his daily commute to work during the pandemic lockdowns, cycling remained the cornerstone of Matt's physical and mental health.

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"Cycling has never been as important to me as it has been in the last 18 months. It has given me a daily structure, something to plan and something to look forward to.

"Poorer mental health wasn't an issue when work is busy, or I have been physically active. It will usually hit me after one of our shows or a festival which can be months of long days, surrounded by loads of fun creative people, incredible music, complex planning, and logistics culminating in public performance.

"Then you flick a switch, and it all goes quiet. When I feel "that feeling," and easy things begin to get more difficult, then I know it is time to get on the bike, because it goes away if I do."

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As Melbourne remained in lockdown through most of 2020, Matt decided to participate in the Hope Cycle Challenge on the FulGaz indoor cycling platform which raised over $170,000 for Lifeline, the suicide prevention hotline.

"It was on one of ‘those’ rides when I connected the dots, realised that Lifeline is a great backstop for people in crisis and the best way that I could do something positive in a broader sense.

"I am lucky that my mental health has been pretty good generally and being older, I am better at recognising the sensations of an approaching depression.

"And I know through conversations with some of our cohort, that they were also struggling mentally with lockdowns, ongoing and rolling cancellations and postponements of their work. Understandably too. This group of young singers, the next generation of Australian artists, are missing the critical years of professional development where they hone their skills, try new things, and become artists. It is bleak stuff and the mental health issues are very real."

"A call to lifeline costs $39 and that I wanted to help get as many calls answered as possible. In the end, my bit answered 155 calls, which still does not sound like very many, but the Hope Cycle actually raised enough to answer about 4,600 calls."

MattNash


As Melbourne eagerly awaits an easing of restrictions currently scheduled for late October, which is also recognised as Mental Health Month, Matt encourages everyone to dust off their old bike, head to the local bike shop for a service, and welcome cycling into their lives.

"The last 18 months has confirmed for me that cycling is one of the most important things I can do to manage my physical and mental health.

"Any exercise has positive effects on mental health, but cycling is so good because it dovetails so well into daily routines.

"You can cycle to work, ride with the kids to/from school or as a fun activity anytime, pick-up the lunch order from the shops, head out to meet-ups or find a local group ride and discover the wonderful community of cyclists out there.

"Cycling is easy on the body, and it can take you to so many places. I am constantly thinking about future rides and adventures which gives me something to plan and something to look forward to."

National Mental Health Month is an initiative of the Mental Health Foundation Australia (MHFA) to advocate for and raise awareness of Australian mental health. The National Mental Health Month 2021 Awareness Campaign theme is: ‘Mental Health: Post Pandemic Recovery Challenges and Resilience' Read more.

If you or someone you love is in need of support, Lifeline (13 11 14) is available 24/7, free of charge.

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