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'It's done wonders': Bainbridge Island man finds solace in cycling group after battling depression

Thomas Ahearne is an adrenaline-hungry athlete who was left paralyzed after a major accident. Joining an accessible bike club has allowed him to continue competing.

BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, Wash. — May is Mental Health Awareness Month and a local cyclist is riding to inspire others to find their outlet no matter how adverse the conditions.  

Thomas Ahearne of Bainbridge Island admits he’s an adrenaline junkie who never expected to get his thrills on the Burke-Gilman trail.  

“Before my accident I was on a motorcycle race team, hiking deep into the mountains and going bow hunting for two weeks and just living off what you get,” says Ahearne.  

His self-described aggressive snowboarding is what changed his life in 2014.  

“I was doing a flip and didn’t quite land it right,” Ahearne said.

He was paralyzed and suddenly found himself unable to do many of the things he loved. The successful lawyer and family man was suddenly in a mental health spiral as he adjusted to life without the use of his legs. 

It was a local “soccer mom” who eventually encouraged Ahearne to participate in a local Ragnar relay race.  

“She convinced me they would let me participate in a trike of some kind,” says Ahearne. He admits he wasn’t happy about eventually purchasing an adaptive cycle and assumed it wasn’t going to be exciting enough. Shortly after, he discovered that the right support made all the difference.  

He participated in the annual Chilly Hill ride on Bainbridge even though he says he admits he thought the riders were a nuisance in the past. 

“I just thought they were clogging up our roads every February!” He laughed. 

Joining the fun changed all of that for him and he’s been increasing his rides ever since. 

“I can’t say enough good things about the Cascade people,” says Ahearne. Chilly Hill is one of many community rides and events organized by Cascade Bicycle Club of Seattle.  “They were helping me every step of the way and I really can’t say enough about Cascade.”

Cascade Bicycle Club is the nation’s largest statewide bicycling nonprofit and serves bike riders of all ages, races, genders, income levels, and abilities.  

“We are so excited to have Thomas Ahearne riding with us to Portland this year,” says Paul Tolme of Cascade Bicycle Club.  

This summer marks the 40th year of the iconic Seattle to Portland Bike ride and Ahearn is putting in 50 miles on the Burke-Gilman Trail to train on his Handcycle. “I won’t set a speed record going to Portland but I’m excited to make the famous ride,” he said. The Seattle to Portland kicks off on July 15. 

He says the discovery of hand cycling has changed his perspective and improved his mental health.  

“It’s done wonders,” says Ahearne who is encouraging others to find an outlet that works for them. “Before my accident, I would have thought it was crazy to even try this tricycle thing but it’s just been life-saving for me.”   

Cascade Bicycle Club was started in 1970 by two brothers. Membership was $2. More than 50 years later Cascade Bicycle Club is an inclusive powerhouse in event-producing, bike education and advocacy with almost 10,000 members, 700 volunteers and dozens of staff. 

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