Cycling trip Saturday designed to raise awareness about PTSD and first responders

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At first paramedic Tanya Hirtz had hoped a handful of riders would join her on an Oxford County bicycle ride this Saturday to raise awareness about post-traumatic stress disorder and first responders.

“The interest has been overwhelming,” explained the Drumbo paramedic. “We’re now up to 80 riders completing the course.”

On Saturday, Sept. 10, local cyclists will support #IveGotYourBack911, a campaign started in 2014 by four paramedics following the death by suicide of two more first responders.

“The campaign is designed to raise awareness and demand change,” Hirtz explained.

Since 2014, 151 Canadian first responders, including paramedics, police, firemen, correctional officers and active duty military, have taken their lives by suicide.

“These are only the reported suicides,” she said.

Sept. 10 is also National Suicide Prevention Day, and a moment will be observed for all those who have lost their lives to suicide.

Hirtz said in previous years there was a stigma surrounding talking about mental health, especially within the first responders’ community.

“They were there to help others but no one was asking ‘who is helping us?’” Hirtz said.

In recent years, the first responder community has made significant headway in raising awareness about PTSD.

“There have been great things done,” Hirtz said. “The government and WSIB have recognized it’s a work-related illness. More people are talking about it and seeking help. More help for us is out there.”

Hirtz said the hardest calls for first responders are those dealing with situations involving children or with someone they know personally.

“Each paramedic responds differently to that call. You just never know," she said. “We see a lot of bad situations on the job that put ourselves at risk."

The ride will feature a 50 km and 100 km route across the county.

Those who want to take part in the 100 km route should register at Boston Pizza at 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 10. The route starts in Woodstock and travels to Ingersoll, Tillsonburg and Norwich, before returning to Woodstock. Refreshments are available at each stop.

Those who want to take part in 50 km route, should meet at noon with the cyclists at Sobeys in Tillsonburg.

Cost of the ride is $60, which includes a T-shirt and swag, with all proceeds going to #IveGotYourBack911.

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