KEOSAUQUA — The Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association (CVMA) chapter 39-5 held a suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) awareness ride and fundraiser “Stop and Listen” on Saturday, Sept. 7. The event, organized by CVMA member Albert Sanders, was created in remembrance of Sanders’s great-nephew, Blake Nichols, who took his life in 2015. Blake was only 15 years old.
Over 60 supporters came out to support the event, including members from other motorcycle associations like the Christian Motorcyclist Association (CMA) and Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA). The ride began at noon in Keosauqua at a bar called the Vets Club, and ran through five other cities before concluding in Knoxville.
“We didn’t do any fliers. It was all through word-of-mouth,” Sanders said. “Suicide and PTSD really go hand-in-hand. It’s not something that anyone wants to talk about. We just want to draw awareness to the two subjects,” Sanders added. Sanders, who served for 22 years as a navy seabee, is now a retired veteran.
“There’s the statistic that 22 vets a day die by suicide [according to the Veterans Affairs office] and if I can help save one child, one adult or one vet, that’s already a big step.”
Sanders, with the cooperation with his chapter, set up a 50/50 raffle the day of the event, surprising Blake’s mother, Jessica Nichols, with the proceeds that would usually go to the organization. Through the event, $300 was raised through the raffle; Jessica donated the $150 that was gifted to her to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Jessica regularly donates to the foundation and attends suicide prevention events in memory of her son. Sanders anticipates the organization raised about $2,500 from the event.
Speaking to the support of the community, Jessica said, “It’s pretty fantastic. Suicide is really something that needs more attention brought to it. It means the world to us that everyone came out.”
“We just hope that by bringing awareness to the issues, maybe some other family doesn’t have to go through what we did,” Nichols added.
Martha Sanders, Blake’s great-aunt and Albert’s husband said, “We really want to try to minimize as much as possible how often people take their lives. It’s important we discuss this important mental health issue and help people see that things that seem overwhelming in the moment have solutions.”
While the event was created in Blake’s memory, the ride along was also to benefit veterans who may be suffering from PTSD and suicidal ideations.
“We’re here to help our vets,” Shane Fleming, another CVMA member said. “We want them to know that they’re not the only one out there and that they can talk to us and some people have called and asked for help,” Fleming noted.
Sanders said the association plans to make the ride an annual event, dedicating the ride to the remembrance of someone lost to suicide each year.