Not only is Gen Gagnon a passionate mountain biker, she is also a survivor of suicide. Two years after her mother’s death, she still struggles to come to terms with who she is and what the future holds but one thing is certain, her bike is her outlet.
For as long as she remembers, Gen has always been adventurous. She was about 14 when she got her first mountain bike, a bike that she still finds hard to part with 26 years later. That is probably why she converted it into a winter beater. Back then though, she was riding it to the skate park where her friends spent more time riding it than she did. She spent a lot of time out with her friends, just hanging out, having a good time, trying to figure out who she was just like any teenager. It was also an escape, being anywhere but home was key. “It wasn’t that happy of a home, but I was a happy person, so I got out.” Home was stressful and negative, but skateboarding was exciting and exhilarating. When you are 14 and want to get away, the only place you can go is outside.
Shortly after high school Gen’s passion for the outdoors and nature grew when she started white water rafting and kayaking. Working on the Rivière Rouge in Québec allowed her to develop a connection with nature and to feel the adrenaline rush of pushing herself outside of her comfort zone. To this day, that river is still one of her favourite place on Earth. She also had the chance to meet many inspiring people that helped shape her and her perspective of life. That period had a big influence on her life and who she is now and certainly helped her deal with her mother’s suicide with strength and courage. Working in that environment also gave her the freedom she needed from her family and the excitement to live life to the fullest.
Her adventurous ways had her hitch-hiking across Europe, Mexico, and Central America before settling down for a few seasons in Fernie, British Colombia. Her winters were full of snowboarding but she still had to find something to fill her summer days! Finally, friends took her mountain biking. That was it, the next day she bought her first proper mountain bike and hasn’t looked back.
After three summers of mountain biking in the amazing Elk Valley it was time to go back home to Ottawa. Although family is what sort of drove her away in the first place it also pulled her back. “As we age we realize what is important and being there for our parents was becoming more of a priority for me”. It was still a difficult and strained relationship, especially with her mother but Gen was shaping her life the way she wanted it.
Working in hospitality and tourism does not allow for weekends or vacation. She went back to school and secured a career in administration that finally allowed her to pursue goals and plan ahead with financial stability. "Younger, there was no way I would have thought I'd be working a desk job, but work doesn't define me. I work to live, I don't live to work. It might sound cliché but that's what it is." From 2004 until 2011 she raced downhill mountain bikes with full abandon. Her life was dedicated to racing and along the way she picked up 4 consecutive Quebec provincial championships.
Working full time, training every day and competing, started to take its toll as one cannot keep such a pace, neither financially nor physically. Now she just rides to ride, because she loves riding. What keeps her motivated? "It's that feeling, the balance, the zone, the moment when your heartbeat and pedal strokes are synched". You just have to see Gen on a bike to know how happy it makes her. Whether it be the most intense ride or a simple ride at her local trails, the smile she carries along is magically contagious. Still, Gen remembers her favourite moments riding from races. “When you give that extra push, when you give it your all and you know that it was that extra pedal stroke that helped you win, it's the best feeling.”
Unfortunately, life is not always a flowy single track. Around the turns there are sometimes unexpected drops. Gen’s was brutal. Easter 2013 will be forever remembered as the time her mother took her own life. All she recalls from the weeks after the suicide was biking and starting her vegetable garden. And crying, lots of crying. “The guilt associated with continuing your journey when your parent has ended theirs is tremendous. I remember riding by myself and trying to explain to my mom’s spirit how amazing riding made me feel. It was like, ‘look mom, now do you get it!?”
There was Gen before her mom’s suicide and there is Gen now. "I want people to realize how hard suicide is on the survivors, how traumatizing it is." Getting out and enjoying life is a big part of her therapy. Whatever the sport or activity, Gen needs to be outside and on the move, otherwise she feels depressed and gets down. It's always been that way. It is part of her balance.
These days she's doing much better. She tries to grow from the events life threw at her. "It made me a more patient and compassionate person. I realize to what extent people all around us can be wounded. I am also trying to be more patient with myself." Being more patient with herself is how she manages to go through the down times. Luckily for her, she knows how to live a balanced life, how to get to that happy place. There are the hard days for sure, but she has surrounded herself with friends, family, an amazing partner and her bike. Gen has all she needs, you just have to see her ride to know she has got it figured out.
Special thanks to Camp Fortune for supporting Gen's story and making it possible.
Check out more pictures of Gen at Searching For Sero.
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