Robert Ndegwa has cycled 720km from Nakuru to Malindi to raise awareness on mental health problems in the country.
Ndegwa, a professional cyclist from Nakuru, cycled for two weeks in his campaign.
Initially, he was to cover over 800km but there were 80km which were subtracted as he was forced to board a vehicle at Tsavo for security purposes due to the wild animals.
He was received by cyclists from Mombasa, Kilifi and Malindi at Buntwani Waterfront Park which marked the end of his two-week journey.
In an interview, Ndegwa said he was glad to have reached Malindi as some people did not believe he would make it.
“Others thought I would board vehicles on the way to reach Malindi but the truth is I have made it,” he said.
The cyclist said he left Nakuru on August 20 and he completed his journey in 14 days.
He said mental health has become a big problem in the country, leading to people committing suicide, divorce in families and youth getting into drug abuse.
“Since I started, people have been listening to me a lot in my campaign and said they needed more awareness campaigns to ensure the conversation goes on,” he said.
He said mental health is more dangerous than many other common diseases in the country and the world at large.
He said there were other riders in Nakuru, Voi, Mombasa, Kilifi and Nakuru who supported him and would join him on a certain stretch and hand him over to the other team until he reached Malindi.
Those in Mombasa received him in Mariakani, while those from Malindi received him from Matsangoni and cycled with him to the finish line.
Ndegwa said he got the idea of the campaign after some of his close family members suffered due to drug abuse.
“These are people I saw in my family who had a potential for a better future but so far they have perished, some are in jail and others are not in good health,” he said.
Ndegwa said most people suffering from mental health are stigmatised and isolated, which leads to depression.
He said the journey had its own challenges including trucks on the way, and harsh weather such as heat, rain and winds.
“In other areas roads were good but bad in others, at an area like Tsavo there was the challenge of wild animals and I was forced to skip cycling on the 80km stretch,” he said.
He said he had initially been promised security to help him cross the stretch but this did not happen.
During the journey, Ndegwa said he was carrying light clothes, a first aid kit, a tent to pitch camp in places without guest houses, a sleeping bag and five bottles of water.
The bicycle, he said, was equipped with good tyres and tubes, equipment for repairing punctures, a bag for carrying food, and a flask for tea.
He said he would ride from 7am to 5pm as he did not want to ride past that time for security reasons.
“I would ride for seven hours non-stop while maintaining an average speed which riders understand of 14, which is not tiresome even in areas that are hilly, windy, or have water,” he said.
He said the campaign is meant to trigger the conversation of mental health countrywide and make people understand that it was a serious issue.
The aim is to ensure people suffering from mental health are assisted to improve their lives.
To him, there is a need for funding to constitute a cycling team that would take the lead in the awareness campaigns.
“I started long distance cycling in 2016 and I have done several campaigns in Central, Western, Oloitoktok and North Rift,” he said.
Malindi Cycling Association Club Haroun Ombwara said they were happy to welcome their fellow cyclist who had cycled all the way from Nakuru to Malindi for a worthy cause.
He urged people to embrace physical exercise including cycling for better health.
“We have a club in Malindi which we opened and anyone can join for his or her wellness,” he said.
Buntwani Waterfront Park managing director Ahmed Hassan hailed the cyclist for initiating the mental health awareness campaign as it was a serious issue in the country.
He said mental health issues increased at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the lockdowns, an economic crisis followed and people started paying the price mentally.
“So, we appreciate you and hope this message gets to the government that we need to pay serious attention to issues of mental health as failure to stop it will have dire consequences such as suicide, crime, among others,” he said.
Cyclist Ali Midcom from Malindi Cycling Club urged motorists to respect riders and other road users.
Cyclist Kinuthia Maina from Mombasa said he was happy to welcome Ndegwa. “We received him in Mariakani and came with him up to Malindi to give him support to spread to message to the people,” he said.