Charliiy Berry is one of nine riders keeping a journal for The British Continental in 2021. Charliiy rides for the new Pro-Noctis – Redchilli Bikes – Heidi Kjeldsen team and is a full-time physiotherapist. In this moving second journal entry, Charliiy talks about her partner Jay, mental health and the importance of keeping the conversation going…
My latest journal is in memory of the person that got me into the sport and continues to be an inspiration today, my partner Jay, who remains forever young. February is his birthday month, so he has been in mind even more than usual over the past few weeks.
I share Jay’s story because we need to keep this conversation going
Jay started cycling late. Like many, his main goal was to lose a bit of the weight he had gained since getting a car. His Dad cycled a bit, so he started by borrowing his bike. He wore baggy cargo-type pants – because lycra was stupid at this point – matched with his Dad’s cycling shoes; what a look! Like many things in Jay’s life (skateboarding, cars, motorbikes) cycling soon became his obsession, researching every minor detail. He was a big car fan – think Beemer on airbags, stripped Corsa with Recaros and roll bars, dump valves and loud exhausts. I’m sure like many delusional girlfriends at the time I thought the transition from cars to bikes was at least going to be a cheaper hobby… how wrong could I be.
His obsession for detail was displayed in the build of his hill climb bike. Sawing, drilling, sanding any unnecessary – and arguably some ‘necessary’ grams – off the bike, keeping track of all the savings in a little notebook. I mean, who needs a whole brake block anyway, especially if you’re going up the hill? Getting back down again is a mere minor detail. He was super quick up a hill and still holds some of the local KOMS three years after his last ride with us.
Hill climbs also remind me of his love of Chinese food, especially a local all-you-can-eat. Not the nasty festering-on-the-side sort of thing either. The brought-to-your-table, ordered-off-the-menu, freshly-cooked all-you-can-eat. One where if you don’t eat everything they threaten to charge you more for it. To Jay, this was challenge accepted. We went out once when he was racing the next day. I thought he might hold back on the food options. Oh no, it was like a man versus food challenge and he still won the hill climb the next day!
My proudest cycling moment of him was when he took part in the La Marmotte. As a Gran Fondo – like a sportive on steroids – it is treated as a race. He won the Grimpée Look Alpe d’Huez hill climb event – a mass start time trial up L’Alpe d’Huez that takes place the day after the Gran Fondo – and was third overall that week.
Why I am writing about this? In the final few months of his life, he was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. An acute episode that hit him out of nowhere and very quickly spiraled out of control during those final winter months. He had pressure from work, he put pressure on himself with cycling, stepping up to national level with a new team. He wanted and needed help but it felt so hard to find.
It makes you feel so much better, knowing you’re not alone and having people to talk to that are going through similar things
Since his death, I have found so many useful places that would have been so helpful for him. In the first lockdown, I attended virtual ‘good grief’ sessions run by Ben and Jack from The New Normal (TNN) charity. TNN has grown enormously through the lockdowns and one of their newest peer-to-peer support groups is ‘Boys Talk’. What’s great about these is that because they are online you don’t have to talk or be seen; you can have your camera off and type in the chat so still be involved. It makes you feel so much better knowing you’re not alone and having people to talk to that are going through similar things.
Something else I have been really enjoying over the past months has been the Yorkshire Grit podcast. The episodes are really a great listen; I loved the recent one with Lisa Brambini. It’s all cycling-based, so they talk about super-relevant things that we can all relate to. Other great places of support include Ascnd.cc by Nick Frendo, Movember and Sporting Minds.
I share Jay’s story because we need to keep this conversation going, especially within men’s mental health. This year has been a challenge for everyone in different ways; I know I have found this winter pretty tough.
But let’s end on a more upbeat note. Jay loved a prank. One of my favourite memories being the ones involving ‘the worlds hottest sauce’, which he bought off the internet. He would carry it around and get people to try the tiniest bit off the end of a cocktail stick. The day it was delivered I was out cleaning my bike, a rare occurrence in those days. Hose in hand he asks me to try some sauce. Not thinking anything of it, or being aware of his new purchase, I tasted rather enthusiastically before proceeding to sit there with the hose pipe in my mouth for what seemed like an eternity. It felt like my face was on fire! That evening, we had friends round – ah, remember when we could do that? He put some in the salsa dip. My friend Bex loaded up her crisp… and then spent the rest of the evening either with her head in the fridge or with a mouthful of milk.
Keep pedalling, wherever you may be.
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