Read the story from our partners at the Vail Health Foundation here
“You need to be around other people, which you can do out on the trail by meeting somebody who has something very much in common with you.”
An Unanticipated Turn
What happens when your trail takes an unanticipated turn? Like when a cancer diagnosis takes away your ability to race bikes and connect with your community? For survivor and biking enthusiast Ben Sokolski it meant looking for new ways to connect and rebuild.
As a bike racer, Ben relied on the trails to keep his body moving and his head clear. Even more, they connected him to his community. After his diagnosis, he found it harder to keep up, leaving him lonely and looking for connection. Loneliness is often overlooked as a mental health issue. As we explore how trails benefit our mental health, we can look at how Ben reconnected with a new trails community, Vail Valley Mountain Trails Alliance’s Soul Dirt, as a key part of his healing journey.
An Epidemic of Loneliness
According to a new advisory on the healing effects of social connection and community from the U.S. Surgeon General, “loneliness is more widespread than other major health issues in the U.S. Our epidemic of loneliness and isolation is a major public health concern.”
The report “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation” finds that nearly half of Americans are experiencing loneliness — a statistic with potentially devastating health implications. Those with limited connection are at an increased risk of stroke, heart disease, depression, and anxiety. In contrast, those who are socially connected live longer and have better physical, cognitive, and mental health. Furthermore, people who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression.
So, what does this have to do with our trails? Trails create community. They naturally bring us together. They create space to socialize, exercise and improve both our physical and mental health — benefits that inspired the creation of Soul Dirt. Developed in partnership with Vail Health’s Eagle Valley Behavioral Health, Soul Dirt offers free recreation experiences designed to connect more people to the trails and to each other.
A Space to Connect With Others
Ben understands the importance of community. While being treated for cancer at Vail Health Shaw Cancer Center, he admits “sometimes spending too much time alone and just needing to meet some people.” His bike became his tool for connection.
“You need to be around other people, which you can do out on the trail by meeting somebody who has something very much in common with you.” While reflecting on his Soul Dirt experience, mountain biking with a fellow cancer survivor, he says, “It’s good to know there’s a group that I can connect with.”
As far as advice for other survivors, Ben says, “It’s important to surround yourself with others that will lift you up. If you’re passionate about biking, then make it a social activity.” Hit the trail this season and make your dirt connection. Join the VVMTA for a hike, ride, or trail workday and meet other members of our community. For information on upcoming events or other ways to get connected, visit vvmta.org.
“It’s important to surround yourself with others that will lift you up.” –Ben Sokolski