To say the last three years have been life-changing for Rick Wituik and his family is an understatement. And while there have been major ups and downs for Rick, a 20-year staffer at 3M Canada and member of Unifor Local 27, he explains there has been light amidst the dark.
Rick and his wife, Cheryl, lost their son Colin in 2014. The middle of three boys, Colin, at 21 years of age, died by suicide; since that devastating time, Rick explains his family struggles daily with Colin’s loss, saying, “it’s exhausting.”
Looking back on those early days after Colin’s passing, Rick remembers wanting to disappear and escape from the world. Sadly, just months after losing their son, one of Colin’s closest friends also died by suicide. “We were totally heartbroken. There are no words to describe the impact these losses have had on our lives, and the lives of those around us.”
A solo bike ride from Kingston to Montreal in the fall of 2015 inspired a cross-country ride the next May in support of CMHA’s national fundraiser, Ride Don’t Hide. Rick also had the chance to visit with some of Colin’s closest friends while in Montreal. “It was just incredible,” he recalls. “These were people Colin and our family had known for years; they loved the idea of a cross-country solo ride, and from that point it became a goal.”
Coupling a major bicycle trip with Ride Don’t Hide was a natural fit for the Wituiks. Cheryl had organized their first team in support of the mental health fundraiser just one year after losing Colin, “so the pairing of the two things just kinda happened our next time out,” adds Rick. Their team, Colin’s Tour de Friends, ended up the country’s top 2016 Ride Don’t Hide fundraisers!
“My bike was the conversation starter!”
In May 2016, Rick began pedalling across Canada, starting in British Columbia and eventually making it back to Ontario more than 30 days and 2,200 kilometers later. Along the way, Rick shared his family’s story with close to 300 people. “I wanted to slow life down and engage people without fanfare or celebrity – it was an eye-opening trip,” he says. “I saw, from essentially one corner of our country to the next, the deep need communities have for mental health support and other social services. I could hear in the stories shared with me, the fear and uncertainty people felt in their lives.”
A new direction
It was a former co-worker and friend who reached out to Rick with the opportunity to help United Way as part of the annual 3Mgives campaign. But Rick was surprised at what came next: “I wasn’t really prepared for the impact my words could have.”
A long-time volunteer at a local rehabilitation centre, Rick stepped back from those duties to partner with United Way to speak about the importance of mental health. He hopes to do workplace talks to reduce the stigma around suicide and to inspire others to support the charity, helping his community on a larger scale. For Rick, this was the chance to start what he hopes to be a long relationship with United Way. “We need umbrella organizations like United Way if we’re ever to meet all the different needs within our communities. It’s as a group, together, that I believe we have the power to make huge change.”