Nelson's Tour de Test Valley | Too Many Men Are Suffering in Silence With Depression. This Cycling Sportive Aims to Change That
“Within snowboarding and cycling we’re supposed to be upbeat and healthy all the time. There isn't room for being depressed or down..."
“Nelson was undoubtedly one of the most talented snowboarders on the British scene. He rode with incredible edge control, had a real spatial awareness, skill and bravery. Some of his early video footage is just incredible. But despite how amazing he was, he was so underrated because of his humble personality.
“He undoubtedly was, and I’m not over-exaggerating here, probably the most popular chap in British snowboarding for all of those reasons. Both for inspiring so many people with his talent and with his humility. When he died it was a huge shock to most people because of how loved and how talented he was."
We’re talking to Marcus Chapman, the best friend of the late snowboarder Nelson Pratt.
Nelson was one of the most talented snowboarders to come out of the UK. He had a lengthy partnership with K2, coached bronze-medallist Jenny Jones and more as part of the Team GB set up in the lead up to the Sochi Winter Olympics and is described by everyone who knew him as one of the most down-to-earth, friendly guys on the scene.
Nelson had everything going for him, but in 2012 at just 33-years-old he tragically took his own life.
“His popularity was second to none, so it was a real shock," Marcus continued. “Personally, I knew Nelson struggled with ups and downs. We talked a huge amount about his ups and downs because I’ve had ups and downs as well and we had a real kinship because of that. We lived together for a long time, but none of us ever thought - myself, his brother, his family - that he would ever go as far as taking his life.
“He really inspired a lot of people. Even towards the end he was coaching the British team along with Hamish McKnight. He was coaching Jenny Jones and Aimee Fuller, just as they were heading towards Sochi. And Jenny Jones puts a lot of her success down to Nelson. Nelson really pushed her freestyle, pushed her coaching. It was a huge shock. A huge loss."
Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45 each year. Roughly 75% of all UK suicides each year are men. It kills 12 men a day and over 4600 a year in the UK. For contrast, an average of around 1,700 people (a number covering both men and women) have been killed in road accidents each year since 2012.
Research from the leading charity dedicated to preventing male suicide, CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) shows that men are three times more likely to take their own lives than women, largely because they are less likely to tell someone when they are suffering from depression.
CALM’s research shows that only 55% of men who admit to depression are likely to talk about it, that 30% of men are too embarrassed to do so, and that under the age of 45 in the UK, more than 4 in 10 (42%) of men have contemplated taking their own life - less than half of whom spoke to anyone about their problems.
Most men reported that they didn't want to cause a fuss and almost a third said they didn't speak up because they didn't know who to speak up to.
Marcus Chapman and CALM are working to change this. In 2013, the year after his best friend’s death, Marcus (along with Nelson's brother Chris Pratt) set up Tour de Test Valley, a mass-participation cycling event in memory of the snowboarder.
The event brings together around 800 cyclists each year to ride one of three routes - either 25, 50 or 100 miles in distance - and has raised more than £200,000 for CALM, which goes towards funding the charity's call centre, and as Marcus puts it, “towards reducing the stigma and giving people like Nelson another outlet". Support comes in from every rider who participates, and from sponsors like Vans, whose UK team (pictured top) raised over £1500 last year. Nelson rode on the Vans UK snowboarding team for years, and the company has been a main sponsor of the Tour de Test Valley since day one.
The event is now in its fifth year, with the 2017 edition set for 16 September. It follows some of Nelson’s favourite routes around the Hampshire countryside, with the 100-mile route being the first 100-miler that Marcus and Nelson ever rode together.
Tour de Test Valley is a crucial event for raising awareness of the stigmas that surround men and mental health, particularly in the world of action sports and the broader sporting world, where top-level athletes are seen as almost invincible.
He said: “Within the worlds of snowboarding and cycling we’re supposed to be upbeat and healthy all the time. And I think that’s something that Nelson and I struggled with. Especially the British scene, it was about who was the funniest, who was the loudest. It used to be a bit of a fun drinking culture and there wasn’t room for being depressed or frustrated or down.
“Athletes like Jenny Jones have a lot more support now. They have access to a full coaching team through Team GB. It became a lot more professional and a lot more open and I think Nelson would have benefited from that. But stigma exists in sport. How many footballers have admitted that they’ve had depression? Probably about two.
“There are a couple of skateboarders now who have come out - but in sport, the stigma exists massively. It isn’t something that is freely talked about and applauded. Or that makes you feel comfortable to come out. Nelson definitely, definitely suffered from that and I’m sure there’s lots of other people who still do suffer from it, but I hope that Nelson’s story and our voice and CALM has helped people come out since then. I know that it has.
“As a bloke Nelson didn’t open up as much as he could of to other people but he was failed really by the GP because he was very anxious but there wasn’t any therapy he could get quickly and he wasn’t really suited to online CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). He went to the GP very close to his death but they didn’t do a great deal for him and I think he felt really let down by that. I still feel a bit guilty myself that I didn’t do more." Though of course, he shouldn’t.
“Even with all of the stigma now being reduced a bit and all of the talking and all of the media, there is still a massive gap from the media and celebrities talking about it to the actual front line - but that’s where CALM comes in. Their call centre and their voice and their communication hub can help them and signpost them."
Over the last five years CALM has grown from a handful of full-time staff to an office of 20 working full-time. In that time they've recieved increasing support and seen steady growth thanks to not only the likes of Marcus but also the work of Princes William and Harry, who promote the cause through the Royal Foundation.
For Marcus and Nelson’s family, the annual sportive is a way to remember and celebrate Nelson’s life, and to make his tragic story into a power for good.
“We get a lot of people along who have just entered the event and then they hear Nelson’s story and it creates a real positive legacy," Marcus said.
“People come and talk about him and about mental health in a really positive way, and that’s what CALM is about - the message is positive. It’s brash, it’s upbeat, it’s direct, and that’s what we want the event to be. We want it to be a positive memory and turning something really negative for the family into something positive.
“We just need to keep talking about mental health and CALM and promoting it online and telling blokes that it’s alright to come out and talk about it. As soon as someone starts talking they realise they’re not alone. And that’s the most important thing."