After losing daughter to suicide, Texas couple cycling cross country to raise awareness

A group of cyclists passed through Great Falls this week, following a trail once blazed by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.

Tom and Ellen Harris and Isaac and Libby Manning, with Dyar Bentz started Light the Trail Ride in Oregon on Sept. 1. They’re planning to ride to the Air Force Memorial at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 9.

They’re all riding for the Jordan Elizabeth Harris Foundation honoring the Harris’ daughter, Jordan, who committed suicide in 2012 at the age of 22.

Isaac Manning worked with Tom Harris for years and knew Jordan growing up.

“She was a remarkable girl,” Isaac Manning said.

Jordan was the oldest of three siblings and lived in North Richland Hills, Texas. She was valedictorian of her high school class, a National Merit Scholarship winner, and a Stamps scholar at the University of Michigan, where she was majoring in organization studies, a course of study focused on developing and educating students who plan on entering the social justice world. The School of Organizational Studies at Michigan created an award in her name, annually given to a senior “who exemplifies Jordan’s passion for the study of non-profit organizations and for the pursuit of social good which were an inspiration to others.”

She also worked with United 2 Heal, a Ghana healthcare relief effort at the university; a battered woman’s shelter in Boston; Catholic Charities of Fort Worth and many other philanthropic efforts, according to her family.

“Watching these two work through grief, it has been through action,” Isaac Manning said.

The couples were trying to figure out “something epic” so do in Jordan’s memory and when Dyar Bentz got involved, they realized they could make the cross-county ride happen. Bentz took Jordan to senior prom and they were very close, Ellen Harris said.

The purpose is to start a conversation and remove the stigma surrounding depression and suicide, said Libby Manning. 

20170921_085843

Tom Harris and Isaac Massing warm up with a lap around Gibson Park before heading to the eastern edge of Great Falls to start the leg to Stanford on Thursday.

That was a big part of choosing the Lewis and Clark Trail since Meriwether Lewis suffered from depression and historians are still debating whether he died by suicide or murder.

“People who live extraordinary lives can still suffer from depression,” Isaac Manning said.

That also applies to the veteran population, which has been experiencing a high rate of suicide.

“It’s just staggering,” Isaac Manning said.

They’ve partnered with 22Kill, a Texas-based veteran support group also focused on reducing suicide among veterans. A group from 22Kill is going to ride into D.C. with them at the end of their route.

According to data recently released by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, there were 58 veteran suicides in 2014. According to data from the VA Montana Health Care System, the veteran population in the state for fiscal year was 98,386. Montana has one of the highest per capital veteran populations in the country, as well as a high veteran suicide rate.

“Depression is an equal opportunity destroyer,” Isaac Manning said. “It hits everybody.”

Libby Manning said they’re trying to connect with young people using social media.

The Light the Ride website has a #Ride4 section where people can share names of those lost to suicide and their stories. Every ride day on the journey, the team takes time in the morning to read the entries together to motivate and inspire them during the trip.

“Some of the stories have been so incredibly tender, all these precious lives,” said Libby Manning.

Ellen Harris, Jordan’s mother, said her husband’s company would match anything they raise from the ride and that the goal is to spark conversation.

That’s been pretty easy to do so far, she said. Everywhere they go, she said, people see them and want to know what they’re doing and why.

“Depression and suicide are such hidden topics,” Ellen Harris said. “But as soon as you start talking to people, stories come out. The major goal is to get people talking. That’s the way to break the stigma.”

Breaking the stigma, she said, will hopefully encourage more people to seek help if and when they need it.

“As soon as we could breathe after we lost Jordan, we started talking to people and heard so many stories,” Ellen Harris said.

The team is making an effort to reach out to mental health groups in cities and towns they’re passing through. In Great Falls, they met with Mayor Bob Kelly and his wife, Sheila, since they’d known Sheila previously.

Ellen Harris said that through their efforts with the foundation, they’ve found there are lots of organizations similar to theirs and that meeting with them during the ride can help bring more attention to their cause.

The team is currently approaching the Montana-North Dakota border. Want to connect with their efforts, share a remembrance or donate? Go to lighttheride.org or follow them on Facebook.

“I know that she is so proud, especially of her dad because he’s doing the whole thing,” Ellen Harris said. “She’s with us all the time on the road.”